Marks and Spencer shops across Ireland closed today, due to strike action taken by 2,000 employees over changes to their pensions and other working conditions.

The company said the changes were designed to protect their business in Ireland and it apologised to customers for the disruption.

A tweet from the shop's official account said this morning: "We’re sorry our stores are closed today due to industrial action. Stores will open again tomorrow."

Unions including Mandate and SIPTU, said they had been left with little choice as Marks and Spencer had closed a defined benefit pension scheme unilaterally and failed to engage positively with staff.

They also said the scheme was in surplus of €17m.

In response to the industrial action, M&S said the Unions’ claims were "misleading" as they had no requirement to consult with them over the closure of the pension scheme, which was being replaced with a new one.

Some small outlets of M&S have opened and are being operated by seasonal staff.

M&S said: "Our priority is to serve our customers during this busy time of year. At stores where employees have arrived and are happy to work, we have opened our stores."

They added that this was a matter for trustees and could not now be reversed.

They also denied claims by the unions that the pension scheme was in surplus, instead saying it has a €12m deficit.

As well as the pensions issue, the company is also seeking a reduction in the Sunday and Public Holiday premium, the elimination of the Christmas bonus and a reduction in the number of Section Managers.

Two more days of strike action are planned for the busy Christmas period.

M&S said they are willing to meet with unions to discuss compensation for the closure of the pension and other issues - which they described as “difficult decisions”, which were made to protect long-term business in Ireland.