ALL Marks & Spencer (M&S) stores in the Republic are set to remain closed today as workers strike to protect their employment conditions on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Over 2,000 workers are striking over the company's sudden closure of its defined-benefit pension scheme and proposals to cut premium payments, axe a Christmas bonus and reduce the number of section managers.
All 17 stores throughout the Republic of Ireland are set to remain closed, with further strike action planned for December 12 and 20.
M&S said in a statement yesterday that it had received notice of the proposed strike from unions last week and the situation remained unchanged.
"The proposed strikes would be hugely disruptive and, as a result, our stores are likely to be closed tomorrow. We apologise to our customers for the disruption this will cause at this busy time of year," it said.
It also advised customers to check its website today for updates, but there was no sign of a breakthrough last night.
M&S also accused the trade union Mandate – which represents most of the striking workers – of issuing "misleading" and "untrue" statements.
"We have engaged fully and fairly with the unions throughout the entire process and it is unacceptable for them to mislead our employees and customers in this way in order to gain support for this disruptive strike action," it added.
However, Mandate said M&S had left workers without any choice but to strike.
It also said it should have been consulted ahead of the decision to close the scheme.
But the company insisted this was not necessary as "decisions are undertaken by the Pension Trustees".
"This closure cannot be reversed," a spokesperson said, adding that two-thirds of employees are unaffected by the closure of the scheme.
Mandate assistant general secretary, Gerry Light, said: "Our members do not want to be on strike in the run-up to Christmas but unfortunately the behaviour of their employer has forced their hand.
"Management have not given sufficient evidence that these cost-saving proposals are justified and in that context it is difficult for the workers to accept the unilateral imposition of cost-saving measures," added Mr Light.
Unlike many struggling defined-benefit schemes, the M&S one was performing and had a current surplus of €17m, he added.
Mr Light also accused the company of being disingenuous in offering to meet workers over the issues, as it had already refused to delay implementation of the changes at previous talks at the Labour Relations Commission.
Trade union SIPTU, which represents 140 workers employed in M&S stores across the Dublin area, said its members will also take part in a today's strike action.
It accused management of "unilaterally closing" the defined benefit pension scheme without proper discussion or agreement with the union.
SIPTU Organiser Neil McGowan said workers believed the company has handled the disagreement with unions in a "disingenuous manner".
Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said that in all sectors of the economy there had been a concerted attack on pensions.
Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said that the changes proposed by M&S management were catastrophic and the ballot for industrial action had been 94pc in favour.