Debenhams is latest retail giant to cull management
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has called on the Government to act as yet another high street retailer commits to a management cull which will affect 320 jobs.
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Aodhan Connolly from NIRC said Debenhams' recent decision to axe jobs was the "cumulative effect of the disruption from technology, compounded by growing public policy costs".
Debenhams, which has five stores here, said it was part of a cost-cutting drive following flagging sales. It will affect 25% of its store management roles.
It is the fourth household name to strip a layer of management within its stores. This week it emerged that hundreds of Homebase jobs here were at risk as the DIY retailer's Australian owner, Wesfarmers, said trading has been "poor" since it acquired the brand in 2016. It has proposed 20 to 40 store closures.
And Tesco, which has around 50 stores here, has put 1,700 jobs on the line in a bid to save £1.5m. The roles include compliance and customer service managers.
Sainsbury's - which runs 13 stores in the province - also said recently that it would cut deputy managers, department managers and team leaders as well as staff supervisors.
Mr Connolly said consolidation of store portfolios and workforces were a result of pressures such as technology. "This is currently playing out in a reduction of middle manager roles, but is also part of the longer-term trend of a net reduction in jobs across Northern Ireland and the UK."
Taryn Trainor, Unite regional officer for the union's membership in Sainsbury's, said: "These staff reductions are doubly-concerning insofar as we are likely to see reduced staffing levels in the future with the rapid growth of automation and self-service tills."
And Mr Connolly said NI could be worse off than most UK regions if the Government doesn't step in. Employers here pay into the Apprenticeship Levy fund but are not able to spend the money.
"Against this backdrop, the retail industry is committed to upskilling the workforce and ensuring the jobs that remain are better jobs.
"But to do this we need the government to support us as the proposed cuts to the skills budget means Northern Ireland could slip behind the rest of the UK in training and therefore be less competitive globally when what we really need is a flexible skills fund like that in Scotland so that employers can get back some of the Apprenticeship Levy monies they fork out."