Dunnes workers deserve decent work – we all do


On Thursday, 2 April, the battle for decent work in Ireland will spill over onto the picket lines in cities and towns across the country.

Unionised workers at one of Ireland’s largest retail outlets – Dunnes Stores – will strike for 24 hours in a bid to end the precarious work practices of their employer.

The stoppages will continue until practices change.

With 116 outlets and some 10,000 staff, Dunnes Stores is one of the largest employers in Ireland.

In addition, it has some 40 stores across the UK and Spain, and in 2013, it enjoyed an annual turnover of €3.5 billion (US$3.79 billion).

The Mandate trade union – which represents the majority of Dunnes workers – estimates the chain’s annual profits at approximately €350 million (US$379 million).

Yet many Dunnes workers operate on minimal 15 hour contracts and have no idea what they might earn from week to week, or even how long they might be at work.

The allocation of weekly hours is at the discretion of individual store managers, with all the potential for abuse and victimisation that implies.

This is like Dickens in 21st Century Ireland.

In short, it means that workers’ lives are owned by their employer.

Every aspect of their life within and beyond the workplace is subject to the whim of others, not least their capacity to attain a decent standard of living and provide for their families.

While bills and costs are constant, their weekly earning can fluctuate wildly.

We have heard evidence of workers surviving on poverty diets or depending on the charity of family networks to put food on the table.

And with no security around hours of work, how can working families hope to plan childcare arrangements or attend to the everyday needs of growing children?

It is no surprise to learn that one in five of the workforce in Ireland is classified as low paid, or that many in work are forced to fall back on social welfare payments to subsidise low incomes.

Perversely, that means the state – using taxes paid by working people – is subsidising bad employers.

The estimated loss to the taxpayer from all such low pay employment is over €300 million (US$3.25 million) a year.

That is unsustainable.

Having a job was once the surest route out of poverty.

But with the surge in these corrosive, precarious work practices across the developed world, this is no longer case.

Only decent work and a living wage can help to restore that certainty.