Waterstones has instructed staff that furloughed staff will not obtain any enhance to their wages till retailers can reopen, after a petition was launched calling on the guide chain to assist staff who’re being paid under minimum wage on the scheme.
A petition signed by more than 1,500 folks, together with greater than 100 Waterstones staff and backed by names together with writer Philip Pullman, has been despatched to Waterstones managing director James Daunt, and chief working officer Kate Skipper. It says that almost all of Waterstones staff are employed both on or very near the minimum wage, and that upon being furloughed, they discover themselves “plunged beneath this line and into financial uncertainty”.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme permits a company to say 80% of an worker’s standard wage, however does not shield furloughed staff from falling beneath minimum wage.
The petition claims some Waterstones staff are “struggling to pay bills, borrowing money to make ends meet, turning to charity just to survive”. Testimonies from nameless staff embody a senior bookseller who has been with the company for 18 years, who had turned to meals banks after seeing their month-to-month pay drop to £170 beneath minimum wage since being furloughed.
“I have a partner and two small kids to keep on that, and we’re struggling,” they wrote.
Another staff member, who has been with Waterstones for greater than a decade, says they might not make lease this month, whereas one other mentioned they’d been pressured to show to their housemate for assist masking payments.
The petition factors out that Waterstones’ house owners, the hedge fund Elliott Advisors, paid £93.3m to to 107 staff within the year to end-December 2019.
“We understand the impact that Covid has had on the business and that the high street is in a precarious position. We are not asking for a full top-up, not that we are paid a great deal above minimum wage – simply that incomes are made back up to this safety line,” the bookseller who organised the petition, who requested to stay nameless, instructed the Guardian.
“It is not our intention to damage or attack our company. We are dedicated to our jobs and adore our colleagues, hold great belief in the product we sell and love the people and customers that we encounter daily. Rather we set up the petition with the aim of raising awareness of … the real and immediate need many of our booksellers, as well as millions of other low-paid workers in various sectors, are experiencing.”
In response, Skipper instructed staff in an e-mail that furlough had been “the lifeline which has prevented mass redundancies” for companies like Waterstones.
“I say this in no way to diminish the stress and strain that being on furlough creates, nor to ignore the financial hardship that accompanies it,” she wrote, including that the chain deliberate a 2.75% pay rise from 1 April 2021 – or from when it might probably reopen nearly all of its retailers. This follows a pay rise final April.
She mentioned that petitions “provoke considerable social media and other reporting on Waterstones, much of it damaging. We regret this, and regret especially also if any bookseller feels unable to discuss their concerns, whether with their HR representative, anyone from the retail team, myself or any of the management team. I realise this is an unbelievably tough and desperate time for so many people but to continue to protect the business, and thereby importantly to deliver our aim to pay more, we need to survive – and ultimately to prosper. Please consider how best that can be achieved.”
Skipper instructed the Guardian that “we have great sympathy” with the petition. “Only the extreme circumstances of prolonged, enforced closure of our shops, with no certainty of the timing of their reopening, has caused the furlough of our booksellers in this manner,” she mentioned.
“It would be much better if we were in a position to pay our booksellers their full salaries, even as we keep our shops closed. With no clarity for how long this crisis will last, this would not be prudent. We look forward to reopening and bringing our booksellers back to work. Then we will have certainty and are pleased that we will be able to give well deserved pay rises.”
Book gross sales figures, which embody on-line in addition to high-street commerce, have remained strong within the face of the pandemic. Last month, market monitor Nielsen BookScan reported that, regardless of the collection of lockdowns across the UK, the amount of print books bought grew by 5.2% to 202m in 2020.