High street retail freeze-out


Retail staff in O2, Orange, 3, Phones 4U and Carphone Warehouse all claimed last week their employers had, or were about to, put in place a recruitment freeze to run down in-store staffing numbers.

High street mobile retailers have staff turnover rates of upwards of 30 per cent, typically, which could potentially see in the region of 5,000 employees on UK high streets let go or redeployed if staff claims are correct.

Of the retailers cited, O2, Orange and Phones 4U insisted, on the contrary, they were recruiting staff in certain areas of retail and in new retail sites. However, measures taken recently by all parties concerned suggest to staff their employers are embarking upon cutbacks. 

O2 staff last week claimed staffing shortages in several stores and a complete recruitment freeze across its estate. Staff said they were being forced to redeploy colleagues from certain outlets to make up numbers in others.

They claimed a review of staffing hours and opening times is due. As Mobile News went to press, store managers were scheduled to meet senior management to discuss changes.

But an O2 spokesperson responded: “We are continually looking at our retail estate to ensure we are as efficient as possible and able to deliver the right experience for our customers. We do not have a recruitment freeze. We are currently actively recruiting in targeted areas to support our business needs.”

At the same time, Orange staff said last week there is a shortage of staff in stores and they have been told via HR teams that outgoing staff are not to be replaced.

At the same time, store managers claimed they had been informed by Orange it is to cancel probationary periods for staff looking to progress within the company.

Orange has afforded staff a fall-back by allowing them to resume former roles if try-outs in new positions do not work out. But staff said Orange removed this freedom last week.

Orange insisted at press its ‘secondment’ period remains in place and also that it is recruiting for new store sites.

A spokeperson said: “We continue to monitor the impact of the economic climate closely. As part of our new ‘sales and loyalty’ vision we want to make sure that we attract, develop and retain the best sales people – which also means that staff who are underperforming may be at risk.

“It is not about reducing numbers at present, it’s about ensuring we have the best. In addition, we are looking to recruit new staff to support our new stores.”

Meanwhile, 3 retail staff are now required to sign a new contract by the end of June or have their employment terminated. Staff were informed of changes by head of retail Ian Parpworth via an all store conference call on April 6 highlighting “significant” changes.

These include a number of store staff having their contracted work hours reduced, affecting their pay and bonus, as well as 30 of 3’s 300 stores being closed on Sundays, and 35 assistant managers having their positions downgraded to sales associates. Staff who do not agree to the new terms by the end of June will be let go.

A 3 spokesperson said: “The consultation process is underway, and we are doing what we can to ensure we do not take the easy route and reduce our staff. The changes being made will be significant to some people, and as a result staff are required to sign new terms on a new contact.”

Phones 4U store managers also claimed to be at risk. Several said  they had seen no intake of new staff since Christmas and complained, again, store sales targets remain too high.

A spokesperson said: “We are currently creating over 200 customer facing roles in response to the company’s continued focus on customer service and growth of market share.

“As a result, I think it’s clear that despite the tough economic climate at present, we continue to recruit and invest in our people and the business.”

But new rules mean managers face the sack if they miss targets – managers will be put through a set of disciplinary actions including letter of concern, verbal warning, written warning and final written warning.

Phones 4U managers said since area sales directors have been replaced with regional directors, communication has been limited.

One said: “I haven’t seen the regional director once. It’s impossible to arrange a meeting to discuss targets and make them understand our difficulty.”

At Carphone, store managers claim to have been told there is a recruitment freeze that will run until the 450 job cuts in head office are finalised and staff have been offered a route in retail.

One Carphone manager said: “Carphone doesn’t experience the same staff turnover levels as Phones 4U so for the time being we’re not badly affected.”