Tesco has rejected suggestions that it ‘proactively’ encouraged workers

It has been claimed that employees currently involved in an industrial dispute at Tesco have received letters offering help to leave their union. The dispute focuses on employees who joined the company prior to 1996. Around 700 of these workers left last year under the redundancy programme, and the supermarket chain is now trying to alter the contracts of the remaining 250 workers.

Mandate, the trade union that represents most of the employees, said that alterations to the contracts could see some workers incomes reduced by 15 per cent. The dispute has resulted in workers at nine Tesco stores voting to initiate indefinite strike action from February 14th, with another five stores joining them from February 17th.

Following a meeting of trade union leaders in Dublin on Thursday, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions claimed Tesco was engaged in an operation to encourage workers to leave their unions.

Letters from a senior company director are said to have been distributed to employees, offering to assist them in leaving their trade union by filling out a form. Congress general secretary Patricia King said, “It has taken an extremely serious turn”. “The company has made decisions that demonstrate how they intend to approach their dealings with staff into the future.”

“They are telling workers they will work when they want them to work, on the terms they want them to work, and that they would be better off leaving their trade unions. They have provided workers with forms to leave their unions.”

The desire to leave

A Tesco spokeswoman denied that the company was “proactively” encouraging employees to leave their unions, and said that letters were only distributed to employees who previously expressed a want to leave.

The spokeswoman said, “We are not circulating any materials encouraging colleagues to leave the union”. She continued, “We respect our colleagues’ right to choose if they wish to be in a union or not. If colleagues indicate they wish to leave the union then obviously we have to process this request.”

According to Mandate general secretary John Douglas, the letters were “an attack on all trade union members”. He said, “The company is seeking to take trade unionism off the pitch”. Mr. Douglas called on union members to “shop with their conscience” on the 14th and beyond. “We believe we will get a massive response from the public”.

In a statement, Tesco stated it was “shocked at the stance” taken by ICTU and urged Mandate to accept a recent Labour Court recommendation in relation to the dispute. It added, “We are further disappointed that Mandate continues to engage in a campaign of myths and misinformation to misguide our colleagues and damage our business impacting everyone who works for Tesco”.