Joanne Sirett started working for Ikea in Milton Keynes when it first opened in 2005 and has been a formidable force ever since
What did you do at Ikea?
Everything! I worked on the tills, was a personal shopper for businesses, and sold office furniture. Then when I starting using a wheelchair, they moved me into the office to handle customer enquiries.
And how are you involved with the union?
I joined the union when I started at Ikea and soon became a union rep. I retired in early 2016, but am still involved with Usdaw, helping shop workers at other companies. I do it because it’s the right thing to do. I love the job! We don’t get paid, so I don’t do it for the money. Every retail worker should have a union looking out for them.
What sort of issues have you dealt with?
Ikea are good employers, but having a union on site makes sure they live up to what they say in their glossy corporate brochures. Two of my members had learning difficulties. Even though Ikea prides itself on being inclusive, some managers were trying to hide them away from customers. It gave them no scope to grow. I had done diplomas in employment law and equalities with the TUC, so I fought for these two guys and managed to get their social workers in. Their managers worked with them to find ways to meet their needs at work. It was a success: both staff members still have jobs at Ikea.
Tell us about a successful negotiation?
Ikea is busiest at weekends and they wanted more and more staff to work Saturdays and Sundays. But many people with families found it hard so a lot of people left the company. One couple, who both worked at Ikea, had a daughter who was ill, so someone always had to be at home with her.
In retail, you expect to work weekends, so I understand the company’s point of view. If the company’s not making money, people will lose their jobs. But I also felt quite passionate about people being able to support their family. This particular case took six months of hard negotiation. Initially the couple had to work alternate weekends, but in the end they got one weekend off a month together. I was so pleased. I think Ikea saw that the couple were trying to meet them in the middle.