Tesco Ireland is the most profitable multinational retailer on the island of Ireland; generating more than €250 million in profit annually; buying up other companies for €4.3 billion and promising to pay out dividends to already wealthy shareholders. Against this retail giant are a small group of workers with 21 years of loyal service fighting to protect their incomes and their contracts of employment.
Tesco Ireland is attempting to change contracts of employment without agreement for 250 staff members employed before 1996. For the last 12 months they have intimidated and pressured those workers to leave the business and generally made their lives hell.
Why? Because, those workers have secure hour contracts, with relatively decent pay and conditions; this is the thanks you get for helping to build one of the most successful multinational retailers in the world, and it’s simply not good enough.
Ireland has the second highest prevalence of underemployment (involuntary part-time work) in the EU 15 and we have the second highest prevalence of low pay in the entire OECD. Now Tesco want to drive down those wages and conditions of employment even further.
If Tesco are to get away with changing contracts of employment without agreement from these workers, then no worker will be safe. Soon they’ll have all workers in Ireland earning close to the minimum wage, just like they do in the UK.
Every worker should have secure hours with an income that’s sufficient to provide a decent living standard for them and their family.
It’s not right that companies like Tesco can pay dividends to shareholders, massive bonuses to executives and at the same time cut wages for the very people who make them their profits in the first place. In fact, even though Tesco is among the better paying retailers in Ireland, more than 10% of the workforce still has to have their incomes topped up through supplementary social welfare payments like FIS. This means that it is the Irish taxpayer picking up the tab for low pay, while shareholders walk away with dividends. Tesco want to pay their workers as little as possible in order to drive up profits for their owners.
If we are serious about ensuring that ‘work pays’ in Ireland and that decency and fairness are at the heart of all jobs in our society, then together we must stop the race to the bottom that Tesco is attempting to escalate. But we can only do it together. By supporting workers when they struggle to protect their conditions of employment and by supporting them when they battle for improved wages and conditions.
As a society we need to decide whether it is acceptable for a highly profitable and powerful multinational retailer to impose this type of pain on low-paid workers who have shown more than 21 years of loyalty building that company. This type of behaviour and exploitation of their Irish workforce will not be tolerated.