Dunnes Stores management are harming the company they’ve worked so hard to build

Dunnes remains Ireland's no.1 supermarket, according to Kantar Worldpanel's latest report
Dunnes remains Ireland's no.1 supermarket, according to Kantar Worldpanel's latest report

After working hard to remain relevant throughout the years, Fionnuala Carolan outlines why it would be terrible to see Dunnes Stores management potentially do irreparable damage to the company through cultivating a perception that they don't take employees' concerns on board

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Blog - Fionnuala Carolan

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16 April 2015 | 0

The industrial action being taken by Dunnes Stores workers in the past week is a pretty sad event to witness. To see such turmoil within the walls of the country’s most successful indigenous retailer makes you wonder what the future can hold for such an organisation. With staff and management waging a very public war with one another, it makes life uncomfortable for everyone – the customer included. If no solution is agreed, eventually the staff’s discontent will manifest itself in bad and sloppy customer service and in an age where good service is deemed necessary for a successful business, it won’t be long before customers take their custom elsewhere. It beggars belief that Dunnes management can’t seem to see the big picture here and are not worried about the consequences of their actions.

It’s no secret that Dunnes management rarely speaks to the media so it’s been very hard to get to know it as an organisation. All we can do is build up a vague picture of the goings on inside Dunnes HQ through the snippets we hear during court cases and the odd rumour that emerges. As much as we can fathom from the odd statement that is released, Dunnes management feel they pay their staff well, citing two 3% pay rises in recent years. It is operating in a hugely competitive sector and using banded hour contracts means they can control their wage bill. It’s understandable to some extent but there comes a point when they must recognise their staff as equals, people who deserve to plan their lives, take out mortgages and have a decent work/life balance. Their lack of empathy for the lives of their staff is truly disappointing to see.

Despite the bad press, it’s important to acknowledge that Dunnes Stores management are exceptional business people. The fact that is it managing to compete and even apply pressure to mammoth international retailers like Tesco is a testament to the incredible business acumen that is in place. Dunnes Stores has remained relevant throughout the years, whether we look at the grocery, clothes or homeware departments and the company has consistently come up with clever, timely promotions and taken on exciting new designers like Paul Costello and Carolyn Donnelly to make it a place where people really want to shop.

Mandate spoke to ShelfLife this month (p16) about the industrial action its members are taking but we are aware that we are only hearing one side of the story. Mandate has said that its members are being openly victimised since the strike, a scenario predicted by workers on the picket line last week. Sticking your head in the clouds, as Dunnes management has always done, is all well and good but when every political party in the country is supporting your workers and even the Taoiseach is condemning your actions, you would imagine it is time to take stock and maybe consider a different approach.

It would be terrible to see such a stalwart of the Irish grocery industry do itself irreparable damage just because it is too proud to sit down with its own staff and come to a reasonable solution to these issues. The last major strike carried out by Dunnes Stores staff was in 1995. It lasted three weeks and cost the company about £50 million and approximately 3% of market share. With competition so rife in the industry now, it surely can’t risk this happening again.

Dunnes is operating in a tremendously competitive marketplace and it is doing a phenomenal job but if competing means tearing away at the dignity and basic human rights of your own employees, it can’t be sustainable and is simply not right.

Fionnuala Carolan

Editor

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