Redundancies were “out of the blue” and “heartless”, it’s claimed
STAFF made redundant by Edinburgh Woollen Mill say the company was heartless not to re-employ them after the UK government introduced a scheme to retain workers laid off because of the coronavirus.
Nineteen employees lost their jobs at the major retailers Carlisle headquarters last month because footfall at its 1,300 stores collapsed.
A few days later the government implemented furlough leave, pledging to cover 80 per cent of wages of workers temporarily laid off.
The scheme included an option for claims to be backdated to March 1 for businesses which had acted before the announcement.
A worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, appealed to bosses for them and their colleagues to be reinstated and put on the furlough leave.
But EWM, owned by billionaire Philip Day, said it saw no future for the redundant roles as it braced itself for the long-term impact of the pandemic on its retail businesses.
The former employee, who worked at EWM Group for just over three months, said she was shocked, angry and confused by its handling of the redundancies, which focused on those who had most recently joined.
She said: “The way they dealt with us was really unfair; it was heartless. There was no warning; it came out of the blue.
“I think we should have been given the chance to get that government support. It’s a time when employers should support their people.”
The company had to temporarily close all its stores, along with all other businesses deemed non-essential, as instructed by the government.
A spokesman said: “When we made the redundancies, we did so because we sadly don’t believe these jobs will be there in the future. They won’t come back on the other side of this.
“This is not a temporary blip; things aren’t going to improve in a few months and keep improving. “It’s hard to understate the impact this is having on retailers right now.
“The redundancies were a very difficult decision for us and the team and it wasn’t taken lightly. “It looks like this will go on for six, 12, possibly 18 months and shopping habits and the high street will change for good.”
He said the company had looked very carefully at rehiring redundant staff and placing them on the furlough leave.
“It sounds easy on the face of it but it is a lot more complicated and unclear than that. We have to be honest with staff and the government.
“If we rehired, we would have to go through the painful process of making these people redundant again after three months.
“We would also be claiming government funding to pay for the bulk of people’s wages, knowing we will ultimately be making them redundant. That isn’t fair on anyone.”
He denied claims the company had been heartless in its approach.
Accepting there was no easy way to deliver that kind of news, he added: “We went through the process as properly and responsibly as possible.
“The people affected had been with us for a shorter time so there was no need for a long consultation period. We made sure everyone was properly paid.”