Debenhams. Arcadia. Game Stop. Covid has cancelled high street retail and shuttering shopping centres.
FF/FG/Greens have run in terror from ‘setting a precedent’ when it comes to workers.
Rusty overwhelmed unions are struggling to respond but are chained to traditions and legislation which keep workers from getting the support they need in individual shops across the country.
Workers in Penneys have had some success in standing up for each other. Weirdly, because Penneys revenue is down but not below the threshold, the company doesn’t access the government supports. So, Penneys pinched their workers and declared ‘We’re all in this together’ and cut pay by 20%.
Penneys workers were struggling because they only get 80% pay but they were really struggling because of the deliberately low-hour contracts. Though their union Mandate was the driving union behind the Banded Hours legislation which came into force almost two years ago*, Covid is kryptonite for this ‘Super’ legislation. But Covid gives employers a legal excuse to refuse the Banded Hours legislation.
20% lower pay and artificially low hours with no way to access their rights? Workers appealed to the union office but didn’t get enough support. So what did they do?
They wrote to the company themselves through their shop stewards and talked and organised a proposal which managed to get the worst-affected workers pushed up to the next highest band. That meant workers on for instance 9 hours moved up to the next band to get paid for 11 hours.
It may seem small was a practical addition to take-home payments that workers needed. Bravo to them. Workers united around each other, talked and organised a plan for their shop stewards to pitch which in the end paid off for workers.
But there is much more to do. Workers admit they would be better off on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The additional hours still amount to half the wages they were making in some cases. But it’s a small advance and a positive example from one of the hundreds of nearly invisible campaign around Ireland’s retail battlefield in our busiest clothing chain.
Keep an eye on your Penneys.
*A worker on a very low-hours contract 6 hours for example, might always be working 25. If they are generally working 25 hours per week consistently, they can write their employer and demand a change in their contracted hours to the band of hours where 25 hours falls. 25 hours? You could demand to be moved from the ‘6-hours to 11-hour’ band, to the ‘21 to 26-hour’ band. That would be change your contract and mean a more stable working life. That’s what the Banded Hours legislation does.