Tuesday 23 October 2018

Owen was at helm of Mandate trade union

By Jim SmythDundalk man Owen Nulty retired last week after being at the helm of one ofthe countrys best known trade unions - Mandate, the union of retail,bar and administrative workers.

Indeed, Owen has been an official of the union for the greater part of hisworking life, taking over as Branch Secretary in 1969 after working for 11years in Cavendish, which was then a large retail store in ClanbrassilStreet.

But that ‘Branch’ stretched from Bridge End in County Derry rightdown to Ferns in Wexford, covered 11 counties, and often entailed travelling800 miles a week.

Quite a tall order by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn’tseem to phase Owen, who explained that it didn’t seem to be as much ofa problem getting around the country in those days as there was lesstraffic, even if the roads weren’t as good.

Nonetheless he was still put to the pin of his collar to get the areacovered, but having done his apprenticeship at the coal face, he wasappointed Assistant Secretary of the union in 1991, and the following yearbecame General Secretary, operating out of their Dublin HQ, coincidentallylocated in Cavendish Row!

The union was then known as IDATU, before becoming Mandate in 1994, at whichtime it had around 22,000 members, but under Owen’s stewardship thatnumber has grown to 40,000, with 44 staff to look after the membership.

There is no doubt that being the General Secretary of any major union is anarduous task, but what made the role all the lighter for Owen was the“personal communication with people, as principally you are dealingwith individuals, and you get a great feeling from being able to helpthem.”

The extraordinary thing about the Mandate union is that they recruit 16,000to 17,000 new members every years, yet the membership still stays around the40,000 mark because of the abnormally high turnover of people in the varioustrades that they represent.

Owen explains one of the reasons for this is that people go into these jobsfor a couple of years while they are looking around for something better,especially as the career prospects might not be great in the long term,while there are other issues like rates of pay and the unsocial hours.

“No other union has that (such a high turnover). Congress (ICTU)recognises that it is unique to us,” said Owen.

He also feels that the seven-days-a-week retail trading has been to thegreat detriment of the membership, and not really necessary in such a smallisland nation like Ireland, adding that in other European countries likeDenmark the thinking was coming round to reversing that trend, although hedidn’t see that happening here in the short term.

Owen has also forged links with trade unions abroad through Network UnionInternational, and takes great satisfaction that they have been able tobring about changes that have been to the benefit of workers throughout theEU.

Obviously have been involved with Mandate for almost all his working life,Owen does have regrets about retiring, but adds “I’m leaving theorganisation in good health, and that means a lot.”

Married with seven children, Owen now looks forward to spending more timewith his wife and family.

“It’s been an interesting career, and all I want now is goodhealth to enjoy my retirement,” said Owen.