Workers at nine Tesco stores are set to begin indefinite industrial action from Tuesday - with a further nine set to join by the end of the week
The trade union representing workers at Tesco has insisted strikes planned for next week could yet be averted.
The Mandate trade union said that if Tesco Ireland agrees not to make changes to worker’s contracts without prior agreement, the action will be called off.
Indefinite strike action at nine stores around the country is due to begin on Tuesday - with workers at a further nine to join the strike from Friday.
Workers at other Tesco stores around Ireland will be balloted over the coming days to determine whether they will also get involved.
John Douglas, Mandate General Secretary, said there is an important principal at stake in the dispute.
He said the action is about ensuring that one side in an employment arrangement is not in a position to tear up an existing agreement and impose change against the will of the other side.
“Tesco Ireland [is] attempting to impose changes to the contracts of employment for approximately 250 workers employed before 1996 which would result in some workers experiencing reduced incomes of up to 20%,” he said.
“The company - which is the most profitable retailer in the country with estimated profits of more than €200 million annually - has never justified the cuts they are seeking to impose on workers who earn slightly more than €14 per hour.”
He said that Tesco Ireland had indicated that the strike action was not justified as it had not yet implemented the proposed contractual changes.
He said Mandate had written to Tesco in response to the claims and informed the company that if it committed to making no changes to employment contracts without staff agreement, the strike action could be called off.
The union has yet to receive a response from the company.
In a statement last week, Tesco Ireland said "the only issue" in the dispute is Mandate’s "decision to reject a Labour Court Recommendation on changes to pre-1996 terms and conditions."
"Tesco has followed all industrial relations procedures and processes and has worked with all the industrial relations machinery of the State over the past year in an effort to resolve [the dispute]," it said.
"Tesco has accepted the Labour Court Recommendation as an independent outcome. This questioning by ICTU undermines the independence and authority of the Court and is regrettable."
The company said the contract changes recommended by the Labour Court affect 250 people out of its 14,500 strong workforce.
"The recommendation protects colleagues’ rate of pay with 90% actually getting a pay increase under the Labour Court proposals," it said.
The company said it was the only food retailer in Ireland to recognise Trade Unions in all of its stores.
Mr Douglas insisted attempts by the company to introduce the contract changes unilaterally are an abuse of economic power against workers who have given over 20 years of service to the company.
He said members feel that if the company is allowed to change contracts for employees on pre-1996 contracts - the 3,000 workers on post-1996 contracts will be next.
“That’s why we’ve seen such strong support from our members in these ballots for industrial action, particularly from those not affected by cuts, yet,” he said.
“They understand that together we are stronger.”