M&S staff plan strike action for next Saturday
MARKS & Spencer (M&S) staff are set to strike in the run-up to the busy Christmas period in a row over a pension scheme.
Workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a wave of festive walkouts in a deepening row with bosses over the closure of a pension scheme.
The trade union Mandate, which represents the majority of the 2,300 staff in the company, said that it had given formal notice of strike action that will take place across 17 stores.
The first national strike action is planned for next Saturday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, with two further days of action planned before Christmas.
Pickets will also be staged at stores after 94pc of those balloted backed a protest.
Mandate said that on October 31 management "closed the workers' defined benefit pension scheme without agreement", informing the workers that their retirement fund was a "discretionary benefit".
However, the union said that unlike many other defined benefit schemes, the M&S scheme was performing and had a €17m surplus.
It said the company had also put forward proposals in relation to a range of cost-saving measures including a reduction in the number of section managers, a reduction in the Sunday and public holiday premium and the elimination of the Christmas bonus.
The union's assistant general secretary Gerry Light said: "Mandate has traditionally had a good relationship with Marks & Spencer.
"However, in recent months the company has made many decisions which are baffling and shocking to the union and our members and which would impact negatively upon them and their families.
"Now they've implemented one of those changes without agreement. This is not how you conduct good industrial relations in 2013."
He said the unions were prepared, where necessary, to have discussions in relation to cost savings but this needed to be done in an "open and transparent manner".
A M&S spokeswoman said the company was prepared to reopen talks in a bid to avert industrial action.
"M&S has done all it can to try and move this situation forward, so we are extremely disappointed that the company has been given notice that strike action has been called," she said.
"We are fully prepared to re-open talks at any time, either locally or at the Labour Relations Commission, in order to avoid the impact on our customers and employees in the run-up to Christmas."
SIPTU members will also be taking part in the planned one-day stoppages after voting overwhelmingly for industrial action. The union represents around 140 workers employed in stores across the Dublin area.
SIPTU organiser Neil McGowan said: "The workers feel they have been left with no option but to take industrial action." He said that there had been no meaningful discussion in relation to the closure of the pension scheme.