My feet ache and my back hurts and I’ve just finished my shift in Dunnes. Hired on a temporary Christmas contract as part of a big wave of other youngsters all over the country. I wasn’t told much besides what department I’d be in and what hours I’d generally be getting. It must be said, this is the first-place of work where I was given out to for not taking my break on time. Fairly shocking if you’ve ever worked in a call centre or any retail or service job.
Workers regularly missed their breaks in the other place I worked in, we also regularly stayed over the time we were rostered for, and again, I note, this isn’t an issue in Dunnes. In Dunnes, we work mostly 8-hour shifts. Most of us on the floor simply stock shelves, from the moment we start, to the moment we finish. We get moved around regularly to fill in vacant places on the store floor, but that’s not really the worst thing. In fact, by comparison, Dunnes is a decent enough first job. It used to be a job for life, and the people on the old contracts are working there until retirement.
Their contracts have better pay and conditions and the reason for that is because they fought for them. In the Dunnes of today, 95% of the younger workers have never heard of their union, Mandate. Which ironically enough, is the primary (and probably only) reason their conditions are better than in other non-union stores. Interestingly, younger/newer workers don’t get to work on Sundays because it’s a day you get time and a half on your wages, so there is a system that allows for tenured workers to work those days. This isn’t really a problem, just a general observation. In hindsight and after having finished up my temporary Dunnes contract there, I can see that it will take a small period before the unionised workers are gone.
When they are gone, their pay, conditions and benefits go with them. Dunnes will be like every other place of work. Minimum wage, overworked staff and higher demands on productivity. As it stands, it’s relatively well staffed, which obviously then means you can go on your break without fearing something may occur on the shop floor. You get your rosters well in advance and while they are subject to change, you still have a general idea of how many hours you’ll be working in the next few weeks. If you have ever worked in other service sector jobs, particularly in restaurants or hospitality, you’ll know this to be completely different. Hours can and do change all the time. That doesn’t seem like a big issue at first, but if you’ve other things you do besides working, if you have children, this is a big issue. The argument I’m making here is that the good structuring of hours to work is linked to the work done by trade union members to win that. It falls on shop stewards, officials and organisers to seriously consider what is occurring in one of the main places they’re organised in and think about how they’re going to fix that.
It’s important to note how much value workers actually produce when they are “stacking shelves” though. A pallet for any aisle is full of commodities worth hundreds, and if in a different section, thousands. Alcohol pallets, full of spirits, for example are probably some of the expensive ones. A worker working at a relatively fast speed can stack out one pallet in about an hour, working at a slightly slower rate, maybe an hour and a half. The rate of pay is under €12 an hour, to put out commodities that value in their thousands. Think about that for a moment.
In the off-license section alone, many large Dunnes Stores would normally make upward of €1 million per month. Over-all revenue for “my” store is estimated at €1 million per week. The question then should be asked is: are we paid our fair share? Most of the young workers are not on the living wage of €12.50, but under it. Can’t Dunnes afford to pay that? If twenty-something year olds unionise en masse, all over the country, and are taught to organise and lead effective campaigns for better pay and conditions, then perhaps another generation of workers will have jobs for life. And through those jobs, be able to live decent standards of living.
Let’s build towards that. Let’s do it now.