Bunhill

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The Independent Online
IT'S NOT a very happy time for industrial democracy. Last weekend Sir Peter Thompson, former chairman of the trucking company NFC, accused his successor, James Watson, of abandoning the values of employee participation and allowing elitism to creep into the company - in the form of a swanky pounds 1m refit to head office. NFC - which operates lorry fleets under the BRS and Exel badges - was one of the outstanding employee buy-outs of the 1980s, enriching even the humblest Yorkie-eater.

Things are not much happier at John Lewis Partnership, the worker co-op that runs department stores and the struggling Waitrose supermarket chain. A frequent staff complaint is that the top managers recruit from the Civil Service and the armed forces rather than promoting from within.

Still there's always the infamous Gazette, the staff magazine, where disgruntled shop assistants can vent their complaints. Staff are allowed to write in to the letters page anonymously or using pseudonyms. The pen names of correspondents this week - 'Overlooked', 'Very Concerned', 'Sad Watcher' and 'Was Going Places' - give a flavour of the bitterness in those pages.

From tomorrow it has a new general editor, following the retirement of Hugh Macpherson. Penny Junor, the consumer's champion, presenter of 4 What It's Worth and the Private Eye columnist, arrives to stir things up a bit.

Meanwhile, over at Sainsbury, many employees are in a bit of a quandary. Generous bonus schemes have resulted in around 35,000 of the 120,000 staff owning Sainsbury shares: in some cases a lot of Sainsbury shares.

An ordinary check-out operator who has chosen to take her annual bonus in shares each year since 1979 will have amassed 4,639 of them. A year ago that nest egg was worth a juicy pounds 27,091. Today it is worth pounds 16,747, thanks to the collapse in the Sainsbury share price. The question for many employees is whether to take the money and run.

The latest in-house magazine contains an article from a stores analyst, Tony Shiret of Barclays de Zoete Wedd, and a former Sainsbury employee, advising them to hang on to their shares. Since then the Sainsbury shares have continued their descent, sliding another 32p last week. The editor may soon be wishing he had included a balancing view.

(Photograph omitted)

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