Waitrose staff working on the shop floor are at risk of losing their jobs if they don’t accept more flexible hours, as the retailer looks to keep costs down amid the cost-of-living crisis.
The upmarket retailer launched a consultation with employees late last month, which has enabled changes to their contracts under a project called Simpler Shops.
According to the Financial Times, Waitrose told staff it lost £400 a year for every full-time employee, and a third of its hours were “in the wrong place” as it unveiled the plans.
The supermarket is now seeking to unlock 4m hours of “productivity savings”, or £50m a year, from changing work patterns. However, employers cannot legally change contracts without their staff consent.
Its productivity drive is expected to contribute to a cumulative group savings target of £873m by January 2026. Waitrose’s market share dropped to 4.4% in the 12 weeks to August from 4.6% a year ago, according to data from Kantar.
In March, Waitrose reported a drop in sales of 3% to £7.31bn, with the John Lewis Partnership seeing a total loss of £234m in the year to 28 January as the group experienced inflationary setbacks.
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Waitrose said: “We want to provide the very best service to our customers. To do this, we’re asking some partners across our shops to change their working pattern, and are proposing to cease night shifts at a small number of stores.
“This isn’t something we take lightly and we’ll be supporting our partners through any changes.”
Retail director at Waitrose Tina Mitchell said in a staff video seen by the Financial Times: “Unless we change how we work, there’s a real danger that the partnership won’t exist in the form that we want it to in the future,” she added.
Waitrose was striving to have “the right amount of partners doing the right tasks at the right time” as shopping patterns change, including having enough staff on the shop floor during its busiest times, she said.
The news comes as last month, Waitrose customers had their online orders cancelled due to a technical problem, minutes before they were scheduled to arrive on their doorstep.