Tanaiste Joan Burton said that as a former Dunnes Stores worker she supported the strike over working contracts.
The Labour leader paid tribute to the Dunnes workers, saying that very many of them were women, and one of her first experiences of work was at the supermarket chain.
“The service they have given customers... in particular to older people in need of support, and they have been doing that all down the years,” Ms Burton told the Dail.
Ms Burton was replying to Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher who said the Dunnes Stores management had ignored the Taoiseach’s plea for them to engage with unions and use industrial relations machinery to seek a solution.
Deputy Kelleher recalled the 1980s strike at the store over some workers’ refusal to handle imported South African fruit. He recalled meeting Nelson Mandela in 1995 in Cape Town.
“Mr Mandela asked me: ‘How are my Irish girlfriends? They were very important to us in our struggle’,” Deputy Kelleher recalled.
The Tanaiste repeated the Government’s view that the dispute can be resolved.
“I think, like everyone in Ireland, that this strike is very regrettable. There is an avenue by which it can be settled and that is by the industrial relations machinery of the State,” Ms Burton said.
Sinn Fein deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said the strike was mainly caused by the Dunnes Stores management. She also criticised Labour in government for failing to improve industrial relations law over the past four years.
The Tanaiste said new legislation on collective bargaining would come before the Dail next time. “I do hope Sinn Fein will actually support this legislation,” she said.
In sharp exchanges between Anti Austerity Alliance TD, Paul Murphy, the Labour leader expressed scepticism about his allegations on “bullying” of workers by Dunnes Stores management in this dispute.
In a clear reference to an incident in Tallaght last November, when Ms Burton was blockaded in her car, she said Mr Murphy knew more than most about bullying.
“You’re kind of a connoisseur,” the Tanaiste said.
Joan Burton met with striking staff outside the Dunnes Stores on Henry St where she worked while in college.
Dunnes Stores shops around the country are set to take a big financial hit today, as a planned strike by thousands of their employees is likely to impact on alcohol sales which are traditionally high on Holy Thursday.