Dunnes Stores Dispute: After eleven months of continuous attempts to bring the issue of variable working arrangements in Dunnes Stores to the fore, MANDATE trade union have recently received the full scale media attention they wanted with their much publicised strike action across the country.
The Dunnes Stores dispute has led to several issues hitting the public consciousness, such as collective bargaining rights, the use of zero hour contracts (which ironically don’t seem to exist in Dunnes Stores) and variable working hour systems. This dispute is particularly interesting as it is coming in the year that the Government is expected to reform collective bargaining in Ireland via the Industrial Relations Amendment (No 2) Bill.
Industrial Relations Amendment (No 2) Bill
Interestingly, this legislation allows for Trade Unions to argue for recognition where they feel their members are not being recognised and can approach that argument from the perspective that their members’ terms and conditions are out of sync with that of competitors.
This would be the position the union are taking in this Dunnes case, as competitors such as Tesco and Penneys have already engaged with unions and agreed on ‘banding hours’ for the flexible workers.
This is why many parties, and employers alike, would be interested in the result of this case. The overall issue of flexible working arrangements for low paid workers, and the power of trade unions to get results in such areas, may change from the outcome of this case.
Employer Refusal to Engage in Industrial Relations
It is well known that Dunnes have a policy of refusing to engage in collective bargaining and industrial relations discussions. The complete refusal to engage from Dunnes, while fully within their legal rights to do so, is an approach that has been much criticised by trade unions.
Some would argue that this only alienates Dunnes from its employees and customers alike. However, Dunnes would likely argue that contracts of employment are agreed with employees from the outset and if the employees agreed to these terms, which are fully compliant with employment legislation, then why should they have to change them at the whim of a third party, namely a trade union.
In addition, Dunnes have weathered such storms before, in particular the previous strikes in the 1980’s, and their practice of keeping a tight reins on the control of their employees working arrangements is unlikely to change now. It is far more likely that if Dunnes wish to make changes to employee terms following this dispute, even if it means introducing those terms the union are looking for, that they will do so directly with the individual employees, without union involvement.
It is worth noting that the landmark case of Ryanair -v- The Labour Court  I.E.S.C. 6 highlighted that employers are not obliged to recognise trade unions. In addition, the Government has highlighted that impending Industrial Relations Bill is likely to retain this voluntarist approach to collective bargaining, although it is becoming increasingly likely that there will be additional mechanisms that unions can pursue to seek to get an employer to a negotiation table before the Labour Court.
Flexible Working Practices
But overall this issue of flexible working practices will no doubt continue to grow as the economic climate in Ireland itself continues to improve. Many employers can justify the need to have such arrangements. For example, nursing homes and care environments often have a relief panel of employees that they call upon on an “as needs” basis. Whilst this may be deemed onerous on the employee, the employer must also ensure that they have appropriate levels of care in place and crèches, for example, must have minimum ratios of crèche workers to children at any given time. Thus, it seems impractical to have a carte blanche rule against flexible working arrangements.
That being said, if an employer cannot justify why these arrangements are required then they will face increasing pressure from employees and unions, particularly as the economy improves and more secure jobs are available elsewhere.
Employers should ensure to keep abreast of forthcoming developments in terms of collective bargaining legislation. In addition, if you utilise flexible working arrangements then do consider whether or not these are necessary and whether or not you can objectively justify the retention of this practice.
If you have any questions in respect of the above article then please do not hesitate to contact Peninsula Business Services on 1890 252 923