M&S cautioned over employee contract plans

High-street retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) must tread carefully over new plans to change employment terms for its staff, a leading employment lawyer has warned.

Last week, the firm’s chief executive, Stuart Rose, was reported as saying he wanted to “rip up” the contracts of his 66,000 shopfloor staff, and change their working practices to revive the fortunes of the retailer.

But Stephen Hills, head of employment at Halliwells law firm, said any changes would have to involve a large consultative programme with staff.

“If the company didn’t go through the proper consultation process, it could give rise to protective awards at tribunal and further constructive and unfair dismissal claims,” he said.

M&S has sought to play down the reports, denying that contracts would be re-written, and insisting that any changes would follow consultation with its Business Involvement Group, which has nationwide representatives.

The changes being discussed by M&S include ensuring enough staff are working during busy periods, such as weekends, as well as improving career paths.

However, shopworkers’ union Usdaw, which is not recognised by M&S, said many workers felt the in-house forum was not working, and wanted an independent voice. It plans to push for a meeting with management in the near future, and is launching a national recruitment drive.

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