A strike by shop-floor staff at Northern Irish branches of discount clothing retailer Primark on Friday 16 March was called off after their union USDAW received “an eleventh-hour offer” from Primark bosses to resolve a pay dispute.
The offer would increase the hourly rate of pay for shop-floor workers at Primark from the current £6.84 an hour to £7.14 an hour from April this year. USDAW will now put the offer to ballot.
The offer represents significant movement from Primark’s previous imposition of a two-year pay freeze, which workers voted by 88% to strike against. However, USDAW’s decision to call off the strike runs contrary to the basic trade union principle of negotiating from a position of strength and appears to have been taken by unelected negotiators rather than by the workers themselves. USDAW official Nicola Scaborough claimed that the offer was “the best that could be achieved through negotiation” (the point being, of course, that the entire purpose of taking strike action is to achieve an outcome better than one that could be achieved solely through negotiation).
USDAW is a complex and contradictory union, functioning almost as a company-union or staff-association type body in the areas where it has most density (such as Tesco) but also being the only union to have any significant membership whatsoever in key sectors of the economy where work is expanding and conditions are particularly exploitative (such as high-street retail) USDAW has 700 members in Primark Northern Ireland – an astonishing 90% density.