John Lewis is on the brink of a potential staff walkout as workers express deep concerns and demand clarity regarding the company’s plans to cut a staggering 11,000 jobs.
The John Lewis Partnership, which oversees both the renowned department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, is under increasing pressure to engage in dialogue with union representatives.
The GMB union, representing John Lewis workers, has issued a stern warning, threatening to ballot the retailer’s employees for strike action unless more information is provided about the impending job cuts.
In a letter addressed to John Lewis Chairman Dame Sharon White, GMB National Officer Nadine Houghton urged urgent discussions to address the concerns of the workforce.
Houghton stated, “If workers do not get the answers they feel they deserve, they will not hesitate to request that GMB begins a ballot of workers,” signalling the potential initiation of strike proceedings.
A lack of transparency
Approximately 250 John Lewis Partnership workers are believed to be members of the GMB union. The first step towards a strike involves workers participating in a ballot to gauge their willingness to take industrial action, allowing the union to understand the sentiments of the workforce.
The strained relationship between the company and its staff escalated as details of the upcoming job cuts were disclosed primarily through media reports. Employees have been clamouring for more transparency, urging the partnership to release recordings from an internal meeting where executive director of finance Bérangère Michel explained some of the reasoning behind the workforce changes.
Although the full extent of the job cuts has not been disclosed to all employees, the company confirmed last week that it plans to reduce its workforce significantly. Reports suggest that department heads are working on plans to cut around 11,000 roles, constituting 10 percent of the entire staff. Dame Sharon White and CEO Nish Kankiwala emphasised that “difficult decisions” were essential to safeguard the partnership’s future.
Redundancy payments to be halved
The decision to cut jobs comes in the wake of the partnership’s move to reduce redundancy payments by half, a cost-cutting measure aimed at making job cuts more financially feasible. Staff responded by expressing their intention to consult trade unions.
Dame Sharon White had forewarned employees of “quite big changes and quite bold changes” last month, underscoring the need for significant restructuring. Staffing represents one of the largest costs for John Lewis, with a total expenditure of £1.8 billion in the last financial year.
The escalating threat of strike action follows recent criticism from union bosses regarding the partnership’s handling of redundancy pay changes. The GMB also accused John Lewis of discouraging workers from joining trade unions, an accusation vehemently rejected by the partnership. The company maintains its stance that staff are “free to join a union” and asserts that, as an employee-owned organisation, it provides many benefits of a union without incurring any costs. A spokesman stated, “As an employee-owned organisation, we… provide many benefits of a union, without any cost.”
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.