Easons bookstore has become the latest employer to try to cancel the traditional Christmas bonus of one week's wages – worth around €400 – to each of its 1,000 staff.
A survey by recruitireland.com released last week reported that over half (52%) of 800 companies surveyed which traditionally paid a Christmas bonus will not be doing so this year.
Eason's said it made a loss of over €21m last year and "sales to date are down significantly on 2008".
"The company is under severe pressure from its banks to repay loans. It does not have the €400,000 required to pay the Christmas bonus," the company told Labour Court chairman, Kevin Duffy.
But the unions representing the staff – Siptu and shopworkers' union, Mandate – argued that the Christmas bonus was not discretionary and was an integral part of staff's terms and conditions.
During the years of economic prosperity the company shared substantial profits with its shareholders, not its workers, the unions argued.
"Losses caused by imprudent property investments should now be the responsibility of the company and its shareholders – not its workers," said the unions.
Labour Court chairman, Kevin Duffy partially backed the unions' argument and agreed that the Christmas bonus was "not discretionary" but part of staff's terms and conditions.
But Duffy also accepted that the company was experiencing "severe difficulties at present" and recommended that the Christmas bonus be deferred until early in the new year and considered as part of an overall cost-cutting plan by the company.
Another long-established retailer, Clerys, has reached agreement with its staff that weekend working over the Christmas period will be paid at double time rather than the triple time that applied in previous years.
Most of the larger shops and chains have agreed to pay a Christmas bonus while Mandate is in discussions at the Labour Relations Commission concerning smaller retail outlets, said spokeswoman Linda Tanham.
But according to the recruitireland.com survey the Christmas party has not suffered the same fate as the bonus.
Just 8% of employers have decided to cancel the lethal cocktail that is the Christmas party while 70% have indicated the party will go ahead although half of those indicated that it will not be as lavish a bash as in previous years.