The John Lewis Partnership has paid bonuses to senior managers despite not paying its partnership bonus for the first time in nearly 70 years.
According to press reports, 16 managers were among the recipients of 4,000 “special contribution awards” last year. The awards are capped at 10% of salary for exceptional service.
The 16 senior managers – none of whom are members of its executive team – are said to have received an average award of £12,281, totalling £196,500.
Although the award scheme was instigated a decade ago, last year was the first time the wider partnership bonus has not been paid since 1953.
The Financial Times, which first reported the payment, has said that about a thousand comments about the bonuses have been posted on the group’s intranet from employees of the department store and Waitrose, its supermarket arm.
Bonuses and wages
Many of the posts stated that the award went against the fairness principles of the partnership and did not address the selfless work by many staff during the pandemic’s height.
Some 4,000 John Lewis workers, rather than join the furlough scheme, volunteered to work at Waitrose risking Covid exposure over the past 18 months.
A partnership council meeting will discuss the issue at a meeting on Friday 24 September after the decision was voted through by the council last year.
One employee told the Financial Times “[John] Spedan Lewis would be rolling in his grave at the way partners are being treated.”
The partnership was founded by Spedan Lewis, who created a profit-sharing scheme in 1920 with the principle that the group’s “ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”.
Last year, announcing the suspension of the partnership bonus, Dame Sharon White, chair of the John Lewis Partnership, said the decision was taken due to the firm’s profit outlook, which had been severely affected by the pandemic.
She added that the organisation found itself in a similar position in 1948, when the bonus was halted following the Second World War. Employees began receiving a bonus again in 1954.
John Lewis now has 34 shops in the UK employing 20,000 workers, down from 50 shops before the pandemic. Waitrose employs just over 60,000 people across its 331 shops and at its HQ.
The Times was told by one Waitrose branch manager that the news “wasn’t well received by partners”, while another said: “Some partners got thousands in a contribution bonus for their work during the pandemic and they’re making me work my full notice period to avoid paying me £3,000 that they owe me with redundancy. The sooner I can get out of the business the better.”
Earlier this month John Lewis staff launched a campaign to increase wages at the firm pointing to the number of staff still not receiving the voluntary living wage.
A John Lewis spokesman said that 81% of partners received the voluntary living wage (£9.50 per hour and £10.85 in London) and the company was committed to paying it to everyone when profits recover to £200m.
In June 2021, John Lewis unveiled a raft of new family-friendly benefits and policies to improve inclusion, including six months’ equal paid maternity and paternity leave.
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