Socialist Worker

Debenhams workers speak out after ‘heartbreaking’ redundancies’

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2717

Debenhams—slashing jobs but raking in the cash

Debenhams—slashing jobs but raking in the cash (Pic: Moneybright/Flickr)


 

Around 2,500 Debenhams workers were cruelly sacked by profiteering bosses on Tuesday, as the retail giant announced massive cuts in the department stores and warehouses. It's a further blow for retail workers—many of who make up the 730,000 people made unemployed since March.

Debenhams worker Laila Hasan told Socialist Worker, “they’ve treated people horribly—the shock is very real”.

Around 65 workers were invited by text onto a conference call on Tuesday and told they were being made redundant and their jobs would be terminated in just three days time. 

Some workers had been employed there for up to 28 years. 

“Workers were muted during the phone call, without any opportunity to ask questions and after the store manager read out a script, the call was terminated,” she said. 

The signal was so poor that some workers couldn’t hear what the manager was saying, but Laila said that a in-person meeting could have been organised by bosses. 

A jobs massacre has begun—time to fight
A jobs massacre has begun—time to fight
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“There is space to do it, they could have sat us in the canteen but they didn’t want to. If we’d been there all together we would have objected—but they didn’t want workers to stop the process,” she said. 

“This follows a pattern of how Debenhams has treated workers—it’s really heartbreaking.”

“The underhanded way the bosses have gone about it has made it worse,” Melissa Forbes told Socialist Worker. 

“There’s no reason why they couldn’t have called small groups of people into work. Instead, the phone kept cutting off and we couldn’t hear half of what the store manager was saying.”

Melissa said that bosses gave workers “no inkling” that redundancies were coming, and no explanation about who was chosen for redundancy and who was kept on.

And the shock decision will leave many minimum wage workers struggling to get by. 

“Who knows how I’m going to pay the bills now—Universal Credit doesn’t kick in for a number of weeks. There’s been no help from management about how we move onto the next stage or how to find jobs,” she said. 

Slashed

Laila said around half the workforce has been slashed since March, and the remaining staff are “run ragged” in the shop.

This week’s redundancies—and an early wave that claimed around 60 jobs—all happened without consultation with workers, any transparency about the process, or communication with the workers’ minority Usdaw union.

The pandemics’ hit to Debenhams profits comes after years of mismanagement and financial problems for the retail giant. 

The latest round of redundancies comes after 4,000 job cuts since April—when it went into administration for the second time in a year. 

In July, Debenhams put itself up for sale. But any buyout looks like it will come too late for Laila and her colleagues. 

“The trading environment is clearly a long way from returning to normal and we have to ensure our store costs are aligned with realistic expectations,” said Debenhams. 

“Such difficult decisions are being taken by many retailers right now, and we will continue to take all necessary steps to give Debenhams every chance of a viable future.”

But these “realistic expectations apparently only extend to the workers on the shop floor and not the bloated coffers of top management. 

Sacked workers are planning to begin the resistance against the coronavirus jobs slaughter.

Workers immediately protested outside the shop in central Manchester and are planning a similar action for Saturday. 

Melissa, who has worked there for four years said the protest helped “raise awareness” on busy Market Street. 

“We had a few people say they wouldn’t be going back in there again after hearing how they’d treated their staff,” she said. 

And Laila said that the protest was held “because these job cuts didn’t need to be made. They’re being made as a result of the furlough scheme being wound down. 

“The government could be extending the furlough scheme but Boris Johnson’s government doesn’t want to protect minimum wage workers like us.”


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