More than 2,800 Asda workers face the threat of redundancy as Britain’s third-largest supermarket chain looks to cut costs.
Asda has begun a consultation with 2,832 employees who work in back office roles in its supermarkets, the Guardian has learned.
The retailer, which forced workers to sign up to a controversial, more flexible employment contract last year, has told staff working in admin, cash office and personnel tasks that they are at possible risk of redundancy. The consultation process is understood to have begun on Thursday.
Gary Carter, a national officer at the GMB trade union, said: “Off the back of the dispute we had last year about pay – and coming shortly after Christmas – this is quite devastating news for the Asda staff affected. It has been one round of redundancies after another.”
Asda is at a crossroads after last year’s £7bn merger with Sainsbury’s was blocked by Britain’s competition watchdog. Its American owner Walmart has since said that it is “seriously considering” seeking a stock market listing for the business although preparations for a flotation could “take years” according to Judith McKenna, the chief executive of Walmart’s international businesses.
The cost-cutting comes after a tough Christmas for the big four supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, which all lost sales to the fast growing discounters Aldi and Lidl. Amid a welter of price cuts and promotions the grocery industry recorded its slowest growth in at least four years at just 0.2% in the 12 weeks to 29 December.
Asda is proposing halving the back-office workload in each of its 640 stores. With the 45-day consultation period now under way it is anticipated that redundancies will begin in April. It is not clear how many jobs will go but the retailer is seeking “significant hours reductions” in the affected departments, according to the GMB.
“The way in which we operate our store-based back office has evolved over recent years to adapt to changing customer behaviour, such as an increase in card payments over cash,” said Asda in a statement. “As a result, we are proposing some changes to increase efficiencies and simplify ways of working across administration, compliance and cash office. We have opened a collective consultation with those colleagues impacted and their representatives and will have conversations about any potential change with our colleagues first.”
In a separate shake-up, the retailer is closing 400 of its traditional meat and fish counters (Tesco pushed through a similar rationalisation process). It is replacing them with self-service “Food for Now” areas selling piri piri chicken, sushi and pies. There are no job losses linked to the reorganisation because the new contract means counter staff can be moved to other roles within the store. A recruitment freeze has been introduced in affected stores.