Marks and Spencer jobs at risk

Marks and Spencer (M&S) is set to close two of its clothing distribution centres, putting nearly 700 jobs at risk

British multinational retailer Marks and Spencer is closing sites in Long Eaton, Derbyshire and Thorncliffe, Sheffield. Together the sites employ 662 people.

The closures are part of a money-saving plan and bid to improve stock availability in stores.

From 2021 M&S’ clothing business will operate out of six warehouses serving the whole country.

M&S has been unsuccessfully trying to reinvent itself for a number of years. The retailer even lost its place in the FTSE 100 in September 2019. Chief executive Steve Rowe and chairman Archie Norman promised this attempt at transformation will be different.

In a statement to The Guardian the retailer said: “Moving the operations is not a decision we have taken lightly, but it is an important change to help us best serve our customers as we move to a nationally-connected network. Our logistics partners will be working closely with the colleagues at the sites on what is best for them.”

Simon Bloch, a partner in the employment department at JMW Solicitors, told HR magazine what being placed 'at risk' of redundancy will mean for employees.

He said: “There is a possibility that jobs may be made redundant. It should by no means be certain or definite at the initial stage that redundancies will happen at all, or that the total number placed at risk will be made redundant.”

Bloch explained the various reasons employees are placed ‘at risk’ at an early stage. The first is to ensure that the employee understands that it is a possibility and to avoid any suggestion that a decision has already been made.

The second is there may be alternatives available instead of redundancy, which the employer hasn’t already considered. And the third is there may be a possibility some employees want to volunteer for redundancy.

He added: “Because of the number of redundancies being contemplated by M&S in this instance there may be a requirement to collectively consult with a trade union or elected employee representatives.

“Collective consultation applies where there is a proposal to make 20 or more employees redundant at one establishment within a 90-day period. Failure to comply with the collective consultation obligations can result in significant tribunal awards of up to 13 weeks’ pay for each affected employee, so the employer will want to ensure it complies with its obligations.”

Bloch advised HR to help employees practically and emotionally where possible.

“If an employee is placed at risk of redundancy their initial reaction may be to panic and worry. The best advice is to carefully listen and participate in the process. Large employers may try and ensure that employees are supported through the process and provide access to help and support in finding alternative employment.”

The announcement reflects the changing shopping habits and technological advances affecting the British high street.