Despite strike action by unionised staff we managed to open shops right across Northern Ireland and provide a service over Cheltenham.
Shops in Derry and Claudy were unaffected and will be open on Grand National day despite attempts by Unite to suggest otherwise.
The majority of staff wish to accept the pay offer.
There were small pockets of staff picketing shops and these were moved from shop to shop by Unite because of the relatively small numbers of staff involved. It was clear that Unite have had to strengthen numbers by using their own representatives and by announcing payment of increased strike pay to keep staff who wish to take the pay increase loyal to their cause.
We are pleased we were able to get 80 per cent of our shops open over Cheltenham and those shops affected were serviced by others within the locality with Claudy and Derry unaffected. If you get as many shops as we have open on the first day of strike action this should signal to Unite that the majority of front line staff are in favour of settlement.
We are grateful to the staff who confirmed their wish to accept the current two year pay offer of 10.24 per cent and demonstrated this by coming in to work.
Any dispute is disappointing but those in Unite driving our staff toward further strike action are clearly determined to target Sean Graham to pursue a national strategy but we cannot meet the ridiculous 23 per cent pay demand by Unite. We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed toward a pay offer which is bad for the business and bad for jobs.
Our pay rates are more favourable within the industry and you have the unusual situation where Unite will be encouraging our customers to go to competitors where the pay is at best the same and, at worse, is less than we pay.