Catalogue store group Argos has been hit by strike action at its Republic of Ireland division at the height of the Christmas trading period.

Trade union Mandate, whose members picketed Argos stores last Saturday in pursuit of higher pay, now intend to escalate the dispute.

The next strike is planned for Tuesday December 18, but Mandate warned it could hit “any hours after that, at any part of the day and at any location or combination of locations.”

Last Saturday’s action prompted Argos to fly in staff from the UK to ensure stores continued to operate smoothly, incensing the union.

Mandate assistant general-secretary Linda Tanham said: “The company brought their UK staff in at great expense. They flew them in, accommodated them for two nights, paid them for their work and then flew them home. We’ve also heard reports that Argos paid the UK staff double for working last Saturday.”

The involvement of “strike breaking” British workers may alienate local shoppers. An online poll by broadcaster RTE found that 59 per cent said they would not shop in Argos.

Argos has 31 stores in the Republic of Ireland where it has 1,200 staff, making it one of the country’s biggest retail employers. The retailer said that only 13 per cent of staff had voted for industrial action and that it remained committed to dialogue with Mandate.

The union wants a 10 per cent (90c per hour) pay rise. Argos, which has a starting rate of 9.08 (£6.55) an hour has awarded Irish staff a 10 per cent rise since February 2006. The retailer said: “Argos remains confident that we are paying fair and competitive rates to store colleagues in the Republic of Ireland.”

Panmure Gordon analyst Christian Koefoed-Nielsen thought the dispute represented “a little local difficulty”, but warned: “It’s not good news, especially if it goes on. It might give other people ideas.”