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 brand has been sold to online only retailer Boohoo and all stores will be closed, impacting 12,000 jobs. The union is also calling on the Government to urgently act to save our high streets

Dave Gill, Usdaw National Officer says: 
“It is devastating news for our high streets that Debenhams’ administrators have sold the company brand to an online only retailer. 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.

“Last 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 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.

“Nearly 180,000 retail job losses and around 20,000 store closures last year were 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. That is clearly demonstrated by today’s 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 an immediate recovery plan that includes:

Business Rates: The business rates holiday has helped, but it needs to be extended beyond March 2021 to avoid a cliff-edge. The voluntary repayment of almost £2 billion of business rates relief by several supermarket chains should be used to support retail and hospitality most impacted by lockdown measures and provide direct help to those workers who have lost their jobs and are struggling financially.

Rent Relief: The moratorium on shop evictions for non-payment of rent has recently been extended, but unpaid rents are still accruing and will become liable at some point. Property landlords need to reduce the shop rents but many commercial property renting businesses are also facing tough times and uncertain futures.  There needs to be a three-way approach with businesses paying reduced rents, landlords accepting lower rents and Government assisting both retail businesses and landlords with financial assistance.

In addition to the above immediate measures, Usdaw is urging the Government to work with all key stakeholders to develop a recovery plan for the sector built on:

  1. Fundamental reform of business rates. Retailers need clear and decisive action from Government to reform/reduce this outdated and imbalanced commercial property. An online sales levy set at 1% of online sales would raise around £1.5 billion. This could fund a cut in retail business rates of around 20%.
  2. An immediate and comprehensive review of rental values and lease arrangements. Interim support should include government assistance to help pay shop rents for 2020. In the long-term we need a re-balancing of power between landlords and tenants and a wider debate on how rents and leases are set and negotiated.
  3. 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 bricks and mortar retailers. For example, over the last 20 years, Amazon has paid a total of £61.7 million in corporation tax.  Over the same period Marks and Spencer paid £3.3 billion.
  4. Additional 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.
  5. 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.
  6. A new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers based around a real living wage and guaranteed hours.  This is not just about basic pay but improvements to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and respect for shopworkers through ‘Protection of Workers’ legislation.

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.

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