In April last year, the prestigious department store chain Debenhams went into administration, no longer able to hack it in the ruthlessly competitive retail market. Shock therapy at the hands of the administrators closed 22 of its stores at that time, enabling the stricken company to limp on for another year, until the pandemic came along and tipped it back into administration in April.
Workers employed in the 100+ cafes run by Debenhams were put on furlough, with the government paying 80 percent of their salaries. Whilst they tightened their belts, at least they could look forward to resuming their normal jobs when the lockdown lifted – or so they were encouraged to believe.
This expectation was rudely shattered on 27 May, when staff were summoned by text to a conference call the following day. Staff wondered what the meeting would be about. Maybe it would be to discuss plans for the reopening of stores on 15 June?
Instead, workers were told that the cafes would not reopen, and they were being made redundant with immediate effect and without any period of notice. Worse, because their jobs no longer existed, the furlough payments would cease at once. And when staff asked about redundancy pay, they were told to apply to the government.
Had Debenhams been straight with its workers back in March and given notice of redundancy, at least staff would have had some time to seek alternative employment. Instead, the company strung the cafe staff along for two months (at taxpayers’ expense) before summarily ditching them, with no better prospect than joining the long and winding queue for universal credit.