Striking workers picketing the Marks and Spencer store in Newbridge last Saturday said that the public had been very supportive of their action.
Over 800 signatures had by early afternoon been gathered for a petition supporting the nationwide strike of store workers, according to picketers.
The Newbridge workers were protesting outside the closed Marks and Spencer unit in the Whitewater Shopping Centre, which was thronged with Christmas shoppers.
The nationwide strike of Mandate members was sparked by the sudden closure of a defined benefit pension scheme at the end of October. The company also proposes to reduce premium payments for working Sundays and public holidays, and to remove the Christmas bonus traditionally paid to workers.
On the picket line on Saturday last, shop steward Dorothy Fox said there had been no negative comment of any description from members of the public. Some 52 union members are employed at the Marks and Spencer in Newbridge, which has been open since 2006.
Staff member Mandy Kane said that going out on strike was a sad day for staff at the store. “There are trade union members here who are very loyal to the company, and it is sad to see them out here. Members of the public have said that they are very polite and professional and kind to shoppers in the store,” she said.
The proposed loss of the Christmas bonus, which, depending on service and grade, can be between two and four weeks wages to 10 percent of salary, is of particular concern at this time of year. The striking workers are of the view that this bonus is an integral part of their wages, not a grace-and-favour payment.
“They (the company) are of the view that the bonus is part of a benefit, not part of the terms and conditions of employment,” said Ms Kane.
A reduction in the Sunday premium for workers will also hit many in the pocket, said Ms Fox.
A notice displayed outside the shut store last Saturday by Marks and Spencer apologised for the closure and offered shoppers a 20 percent discount on online clothing shopping. “Members of the public have said it is like asking them to pass the picket online,” said Ms Fox.
Further action is planned for this Thursday, December 12 and Friday December 20.
However, Marks and Spencer have disputed the union’s claims. It says that there is a €12.6m deficit in the pension scheme, as opposed to the union’s claim of a €17.5m surplus. It said ongoing negotioations regarding bonus payments were on hold due to the strike. A spokesperson said it hoped the unions would “agree to re-open meaningful negotiations to prevent any further disruption and inconvenience for our customers.”