Marks & Spencer axes 7,000 jobs due to virus fallout

LONDON: Marks and Spencer (M&S), the British retail chain selling clothes and food, is to cut around 7,000 jobs as the coronavirus pandemic increasingly pushes customers to shop online, it said on Tuesday.

The job cuts, to be carried out over the next three months, include losses from its central support centre, in regional management and in its UK stores, M&S said in a statement.

M&S employs more than 80,000 staff, of whom the vast majority work in the UK.

Chief executive officer Steve Rowe said the company would become a “leaner, faster business set up to serve changing customer needs”.

Alongside the job cuts, M&S “expects to create a number” of positions to help the group meet a surge in online demand for its products.

While total group sales slumped by around one fifth in the 19 weeks to Aug 8 – which included most of the period Britain was in lockdown – online revenue surged nearly 40%, M&S said on Tuesday.

“It is clear that there has been a material shift in trade and whilst it is too early to predict with precision where a new post-Covid sales mix will settle, we must act now to reflect this change,” M&S said.

The company joins the likes of UK department store chains Debenhams and John Lewis, as well as pharmacy group Boots, in cutting thousands of jobs owing to fallout from Covid-19.

Official data last week showed that Britain’s economy shrank by one fifth in the second quarter, more than any European neighbour, as the lockdown plunged the country into its deepest recession on record.

Even though the UK economy is beginning to rebound as the government eases strict confinement measures – gross domestic product grew by 8.7% in June – analysts expect a surge in unemployment by the end of the year.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak plans to end in October the government’s furlough scheme that is paying up to 80% of wages for around 10 million workers during the pandemic.