Belfast Telegraph

M&S staff to strike in pension row

Marks and Spencer workers are to strike across Ireland in the run-up to Christmas, trade union Mandate has said.

Staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of a wave of festive walk-outs in a deepening row with bosses over the closure of a pension scheme.

Mandate, which says it represents the vast majority of the 2,300 employees in the retail chain's 17 shops across the Irish Republic, has given formal notification of strike action.

The first walk-out is planned for on Saturday December 7, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, with two further days of action planned before Christmas.

Pickets will also be staged at the stores after 94% of those balloted backed a protest.

Gerry Light, Mandate assistant general secretary, said it was working with companies who were in financial difficulties but would not allow management to exploit workers in pursuit of even higher profits.

"Mandate has traditionally had a good relationship with Marks & Spencer, however, in recent months the company has made many decisions which are baffling and shocking to the union and our members and if implemented would impact negatively upon them and their families," he said.

"Now they've implemented one of those changes without agreement. This is not how you conduct good industrial relations in 2013."

An M&S spokeswoman said the company is prepared to reopen talks in a bid to avert the industrial action.

"M&S has done all it can to try and move this situation forward so we are extremely disappointed that the company has been given notice that strike action has been called," she said.

"We are fully prepared to reopen talks at any time either locally or at the Labour Relations Commission in order to avoid the impact on our customers and employees in the run-up to Christmas."

Siptu said its 140 members employed in M&S stores have voted 100% in favour of industrial action and will stage one-day stoppages on Saturday December 7, Thursday December 12, and Friday December 20.

Staff also voted 97.5% to 2.5% in favour of strike action over the pensions row.

Siptu organiser Neil McGowan said workers are disgusted at the decision of the management to close their defined benefit pension scheme without discussion or agreement with the union.

"The workers feel they have been left with no option but to take industrial action," he said.

"There was no meaningful discussion with union representatives in relation to the closure of the pension scheme, with management taking the view that the scheme is a 'discretionary benefit'.

"The company has failed to provide satisfactory evidence to support its claims in relation to the pension scheme and cuts to other benefits.

"These include plans to cut workers' premiums and Christmas bonus."

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