Administrators KPMG announced they were ‘delighted’ to have saved 1,000 jobs with La Senza in the UK on Monday. They didn’t mention the remaining 1,600 workers thrown on the dole with ten minutes’ notice.
Stunned workers were given 30 minutes to collect their belongings and a standard form to claim redundancy money and unpaid wages from the Insolvency Service.
At a mass meeting in the warehouse on Monday night, a representative from KPMG unceremoniously informed 250 warehouse, mail order and office staff that despite the ‘rescue’ deal signed with Alshaya, our jobs, as well as those of the staff of 80 stores, were no longer required. Alshaya is one of the largest retail companies in the Middle East and manages over 55 international brands.
In my workplace, this blow falls particularly heavily on young workers, most under the age of 30, and many with young families.
The sense of shock and betrayal in the air was palpable, as former La Senza employees queued to collect their forms. Many workers have ten, 15 or 20 years service with the company, who are currently claiming that we are only entitled to statutory redundancy pay from the government, which could take over three months to be paid.
The disgust was particularly strong because of the lies and distortions fed to the workforce over the last few weeks. Following the announcement that La Senza was in trouble just before Christmas, we were repeatedly told that we shouldn’t worry, that a deal was being negotiated and we should carry on working as normal. Mail order and warehouse staff were even made to do extra overtime (on top of what we normally do, meaning 12 hour shifts or more), in order to catch up with orders. We now have to claim these wages from the government as well.
La Senza, KPMG and the other retail giants and consortiums claim that restructuring and job losses are necessary due to the state of the economy, ie the collapse in consumer spending brought on by the credit crisis, and exacerbated by government attacks on public sector workers and wage freezes, cuts to hours and job losses in the private sector.
These factors undoubtedly exist. However, in the case of La Senza, it is not so much that the company is losing money, it is just not making enough money to satisfy the private equity parasites, Lion Capital, who withdrew their investment. Alshaya have swooped in like vultures, to pick off the 60 best stores, and add them to their already massive high street portfolio.
La Senza workers in the UK are heartened by and 100% in support of the occupation of the Liffey Valley store in Dublin, demanding their overtime payments for December and unpaid wages. The speech made by Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins in the Dáil supporting these workers, was particularly inspiring, and should stand as a lesson to politicians in the UK who claim to represent ordinary people. (You can watch the video here: http://www.joehiggins.ie/2012/01/video-joe-higgins-urges-minister-to-ensure-la-senza-workers-entitlements-are-met/ or see below for transcription)
2012 will see further downturns in the retail sector, with further mass redundancies likely. It is time for the general unions: Unite, GMB and Usdaw, to step up their recruitment campaigns in this sector massively.
It is also time for all workers and trade unionists to join the fight for new workers’ party, that will stand up for the rights of ordinary workers, and fight back against the savage attacks by the bosses, big business and the Con-Dem government.
Joe Higgins’ speech in the Dáil
I welcome the representatives of the La Senza workers to the Visitors’ Gallery and I am in solidarity with the Vita Cortex workers suffering from similar high-handed disgusting treatment. It is breathtaking in its arrogance and disrespect towards the up to 120 mainly female workers in the La Senza lingerie stores in Dublin and Cork that the company waited until the workers had left work on Monday evening to inform them by random phone calls – through the agency of KPMG doing the dirty work for the company – that they need not come in on Tuesday morning. It is beneath contempt that ordinary workers were told the company did not have the phone numbers of their colleagues and were asked to phone and tell them, including a manageress who worked loyally for the company for eight or nine years. It is absolutely incredible.
The workers are victims of the private equity vulture company, Lion Capital, which in the most callous way planned to walk away from its workforce to maximise its profit, handing it over to another company which will be equally ruthless, and treating these workers in the most disgusting fashion. This is capitalism red in tooth and claw and must be challenged.
Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies come here and champion workers. They are the people who make and stand over the laws. For a change, let us have emergency laws to allow workers to receive their rights and to stop these gangsters behaving in this gangster-like fashion.
I call on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and its leaders to come out of hiding and meet fire with fire. They should mobilise the power of working people in the country to stand together with the Vita Cortex and La Senza workers. Workers standing together will show the power they have, forcing the Government to act and these companies to pay what they should.