Retail trade union Usdaw is seeking urgent meetings with Debenhams’ administrators and urges them to treat staff with fairness and dignity, after news that the company is being liquidated. Usdaw also urges the Government to work with employers and the union to develop an urgent recovery plan for retail.
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says:
“It is devastating news for our high streets that Debenhams’ administrators have announced a closure programme. Throughout Debenhams’ difficulties the company and then administrators have refused to engage with Usdaw, the staff are being treated appallingly and we don’t believe the law has been complied with in the past.
“Over the Summer redundancies were made by conference call, with no meaningful consultation or proper notice period, as required by law. That must not happen again and we urge the administrators to engage with Usdaw, the trade union for Debenhams staff. It is crucial that their voice is heard and they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We continue to provide our members with the support, advice and legal representation they need at this very difficult time.
“Over 200,000 retail job losses and 20,000 store closures this year are absolutely devastating and lay bare the scale of the challenge the industry faces. Each one of those job losses is a personal tragedy for the individual worker and store closures are scarring our high streets and communities.
“What retail needs is a joined up strategy of unions, employers and government working together to develop a recovery plan. Usdaw has long called for an industrial strategy for retail, as part of our ‘Save our Shops’ campaign, to help a sector that was already struggling before the coronavirus emergency.
“There are substantial issues that need to be addressed likes rents, rates and taxation, to create a level playing field between high streets and online retail. Those issues will not be resolved with ‘sticking plaster’ measures like today’s 24-hour opening Government announcement.
“Retail is crucial to our town and city centres, it employs around three million people across the UK. The Government must take this seriously; we need a recovery plan to get the industry back on its feet.”
Usdaw calls for a recovery plan to be developed with trade unions and retail employers that includes:
- Fundamental reform of business rates. The Government committed to a review of business rates earlier this year, but assurance is needed that this will not be delayed further.
- An immediate and comprehensive review of rental values and lease arrangements. In the short term, the moratorium on evictions for shop rent arrears needs to be extended and retail businesses that are struggling should receive Government support to help with paying the rents which will become liable when the moratorium comes to an end. In the medium term, a rebalancing of the relationship between landlords and tenants is required.
- Reform of UK tax law to ensure that companies pay their fair share of tax through tackling tax avoidance and the use of offshore havens, with the aim of creating a level playing field between online and high street retailers.
- Funding for local authorities so they can invest in their local economy, transport networks and high streets. We cannot revive our high streets if core services continue to be undermined.
- Investment in skills for retail workers, including through union learning and high-quality apprenticeships. This should include an in-depth assessment of emerging trends and potential skills shortages/gaps within the sector.
- A new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers based around a real living wage and guaranteed hours.
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers)is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.