waitrose and john lewis lorries

Source: JLP 

The largest group of GMB members are based at one of JLP’s distribution centres in the south of England

Waitrose and John Lewis workers are considering whether to step up union action as dissatisfaction grows over the impact of the John Lewis Partnership’s cost-cutting plans.

In January, JLP confirmed plans to reduce headcount by what could be up to 11,000 roles across Waitrose and John Lewis over the next five years, as it looks to return to profitability after consecutive years of losses.

In February, Nadine Houghton, national officer for the GMB union, wrote to the partnership’s senior leadership team asking for more clarity over the extent of the planned job cuts.

Union representatives are said to be disappointed with the partnership’s response, which one source described as “anaemic”. They are now considering whether to begin a consultative ballot, which would see members vote on whether to take strike action.

The Grocer understands that no formal course of action has been decided yet. 

“John Lewis workers face a huge increase in workload, cuts to their terms and conditions and no bonuses, while management won’t recognise their trade union,” Houghton said in a statement.

“GMB members at JLP tell us their work has become unrecognisable and is becoming detrimental to their mental health.”

GMB is understood to have around 250 members across the partnership, with the highest density – a group of 100 – located at one of JLP’s distribution centres in the south of England. JLP has 75,000 partners in total, so any strike action by GMB would be minimal in relation to the partnership’s wider operations, but would be the first formal action by employees in response to its cost-cutting plans. 

The partnership is looking to shave up to £900m from the business by 2028, from the original deadline of 2026, after chairman Sharon White, and CEO Nish Kankiwala, conceded that higher than expected inflation meant their turnaround strategy would take two years longer than expected.

Houghton’s letter sought for greater clarity over the extent of JLP’s transformation plan, and the impact this would have on jobs. She also asked for the senior partners to address claims, first reported in The Telegraph, that partners were discouraged from joining trade unions. The partnership has publicly denied these claims. 

JLP denies anti-union claims

In JLP’s response, seen by The Grocer, Lisa Cherry, executive director for people and Chris Earnshaw, president of JLP’s partnership council, maintained that workplace representation remained a “cornerstone” of its employee ownership model, which they described as an “industrial democracy”.

“The partnership has a written constitution, and this makes clear that partners are free to join a trade union if they wish,” the letter said.

The partnership’s 900 local forum representatives, and 50 elected councillors, created an environment in which partners were encouraged to share their views, and allowed their views to be represented at every level of the business, the letter added.

On the proposed transformation plans, the letter said: “The partnership is undergoing a major transformation. As a co-owned organisation, profits are invested back into the business and returned to partners.

“Any future changes to partner numbers arising from the transformation would be approached with the partnership’s culture and values at their heart, including transparency and fairness, and would of course include consultation with affected partners.”

The letter also addressed its controversial, and much-criticised, decision to halve the total redundancy pay offered to partners, amid a wider reshuffle or working agreements, announced in January, ahead of the proposed job cut plans.

“The partnership’s redundancy policy has been reformed to align it with market practice and to make it more balanced,” the letter said. “The change was agreed by a procedure established in the Constitution, requiring the agreement of a sub-committee of the Partnership’s Council.” 

A JLP spokeswoman told The Grocer it did not have plans to make 11,000 partners redundant. While some of the headcount reduction would come through redundancies, many of the reduced headcount would come through “natural attrition” she said. 

”Partners can bring trade union representatives - including trade union officials - with them to certain employment related meetings. This is clearly outlined in the Partnership policies,” JLP added.