Unite is seeking urgent talks with supermarket giant Sainsbury’s after the retailer announced it would close 70 Argos stores and replace them with outlets inside supermarkets.
The announcement this week (September 25) is part of a wider reorganisation in a bid to reduce costs by £500m over the last five years and slash debts by £750m. Sainsbury’s has said that it will close up to 15 supermarkets and 40 convenience stores, and will also end its mortgage lending business.
But the retailer also plans to open 10 new supermarkets and an additional 100 new convenience stores, which will include Sainbury’s ‘Local’ shops and takeaway food sites.
The shift in focus to smaller stores and bringing Argos stores back ‘in-house’ to its supermarkets comes after Sainsbury’s failed to merge with supermarket rival Asda earlier this year.
In April, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocked the merger because it was concerned that the tie-up would lead to higher prices for consumers, both at supermarkets and their petrol stations, while also likely creating longer queues.
The scrapping of the proposed merger put an end to what would have been the creation of the largest UK supermarket chain.
Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has so far refused to comment on any potential redundancies or staff redeployments potentially resulting from future store closures.
But speculation has risen that Coupe, who was criticised last year for being caught on camera singing the Broadway tune ‘We’re in the money’ before an ITV interview about the Asda, may soon be stepping down in his role as chief executive.
Coupe has also come under fire for cashing in on a massive £251,000 pay rise in June even as thousands of Sainbury’s workers have been forced to accept contract changes that saw many lose an average of £400 each year. Unite is now supporting effected members through equal pay claims.
Unite national officer for food drink and agriculture Bev Clarkson vowed that Unite would continue to fight for its more than 10,000 members working for the retail giant.
“Our members within Sainsbury’s are once again concerned regarding the proposed closures of more stores and Argos stores,” she said. “Following on from a turbulent year for our members with having to deal with major contract changes and the unsuccessful merger with Asda they were hoping for a period of calm. Unite will continue to support our members throughout another period of stress for them. Unite are seeking urgent talks with the company.”