Bosses at Marks & Spencer have been accused of treating loyal staff shabbily as they prepare to close their store in Falkirk’s High Street in ten days time.
The 90 workers were stunned when it was announced on May 22 that the retailer was proposing to shut the branch after more than 80 years in the town.
It was one of 14 stores earmarked for closure by the company in the latest phase of its estates shake up which will see 100 branches axed by 2022.
A consultation process was launched but five weeks later it was revealed the Falkirk store would close its doors for the final time on August 11.
The company vowed there would be no voluntary redundancies and said it would look to find jobs for as many staff as possible elsewhere.
But after weeks of uncertainty members of staff – who are mainly female and many with decades of service – have come forward to highlight what they see as “shabby treatment” by the company.
M&S had told employees not to discuss the matter with the media but feelings are running so high that several have decided to speak out.
One woman said: “It’s been a terrible process. For weeks we’ve not known what is happening. In fact some people who are transferring to another store still don’t know what hours they will be working.
“Customers are asking what is happening and staff are bursting into tears because they are so upset about the whole thing.”
Most employees have only had one-to-one meetings to discuss their future in recent days.
They had all been asked to name two stores where they would be prepared to transfer to and to list any personal circumstances, such as carer roles or inability to drive, which could be affected by a new store location.
M&S has now told some employees that roles cannot be found for them and they will be made redundant.
However, others who had indicated they would happily take redundancy are being transferred to other stores. Several are going to the Simply Food branch in Falkirk’s Central Retail Park and others to Stirling or other branches throughout Central Scotland.
The employee added: “Many of those being made redundant need or want to work, while there are several being transferred who would happily leave with a redundancy package. But we’re not being allowed to swap.
“If anyone refuses a move to another store we’ve been told it will be classed as misconduct and they will be made redundant but with no redundancy payment.
“It all seems so unfair and is very distressing. M&S has said it plans to close 100 stores by 2022 – well it needs to learn from the mistakes being made here.”
Michael Matheson, Falkirk West MSP, has vowed to raise the matter directly with the firm’s bosses.
He said: “I’m extremely concerned to hear about the level of unhappiness among M&S staff about the way the company is handling the redeployment and redundancy process.
“While the store’s closure was never going to be easy for the employees to come to terms with, it’s unfortunate that this difficult process appears to have been made even worse by the management’s haphazard approach.
“It’s a huge disappointment for our town that Marks & Spencer decided to push ahead with this store closure. But if they are now failing to treat staff with the dignity and respect they deserve after many years of loyal service, that would be the final insult.”
A spokesperson for the retailer said: “We have a brilliant team at M&S Falkirk and we don’t want any colleagues to leave M&S. We continue to work with each colleague individually on what is best for them as we endeavour to give everyone a role, however, we accept in some cases there will be redundancy.
“The integrity of the consultation is of the upmost importance to us, so whilst we’re confident the consultation led by our Business Involvement Group is both rigorous and fair, we always welcome feedback on it.”
The impending closure of M&S was the catalyst for the SNP administration at Falkirk Council to launch a working group to look at town centre regeneration.
With cross-party representation, it is also made up of business leaders, retailers and others with a vested interest in the town’s fortunes.
This week Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, Falkirk Council leader, said the treatment of staff by M&S bosses was “disappointing”.
She said: “It is disappointing that M&S senior management have not matched the loyalty of their staff. I would have anticipated that such a large organisation such as M&S would have valued their staff more than they do and I would have expected them to worked with staff members on an individual basis to look at what is in their best interests regards future employment.
“It makes no sense to deny those, predominantly older staff, who would wish to take voluntary severance forcing them relocate, while at the same time dictating to others who may have family and caring responsibilities to travel increasing cost of their working day.”
She added that any of the store’s staff requiring assistance or support can contact the council’s PACE team by emailing Gillian.firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 01324 590912.
Working with partners, including Skills Development Scotland, this can provide access to advice on benefits, employment, training or other issues.