Shop Direct to axe 1,500 jobs

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Home shopping group Shop Direct is to axe 1,500 jobs at three of its centres, union leaders were told today.

The GMB said the cuts in Sunderland, Burnley and Newtown in Mid Wales were a "devastating blow" to local communities.

The union said it would do everything it could during the 90-day consultation to lessen the impact of the "disastrous" news.

Northern regional officer Mick Hopper said: "We have been in negotiations with the employer over a long period to arrive at work practices and terms and conditions of employment to ensure the success of the company.

"This announcement is a body blow in an area of very high unemployment. We will be seeking help from elected representatives and other Government agencies to see what can be done to save jobs."

Shop Direct confirmed it planned to close its contact centres in Sunderland, Burnley and Newtown, adding that it aimed to create 350 new roles at its remaining sites.

The company said in a statement: "Following a successful peak trading period where total sales grew by 6 per cent and online sales by 19 per cent, Shop Direct Group now looks set to exceed its target of 70 per cent of its sales online by 2010/11.

"More of its customers are choosing to shop its brands through the web and today it has announced proposals to change its operational structure to reflect this change in customer behaviour.

"With more customers shopping online than ever before and peaking at 85 per cent during the recent Christmas period, Shop Direct Group is now faced with excess capacity and more space in its contact centres than it needs to handle the declining call volumes.

"Less than four years ago, 33 million calls were taken through its contact centres compared to only 19 million today. Customers are becoming increasingly self-sufficient, choosing to transact through the web and manage their accounts online."

Chief executive Mark Newton-Jones said: "We recognise that this is a very difficult time for those teams affected by the proposed contact centre closures.

"We are working closely with the trade unions to help staff through the consultation process and support them in finding future employment.

"Over the past five years, the proportion of our online sales has grown from 18 per cent to account for over 60 per cent of our business today resulting in excess capacity and space in our contact centres.

"We are a strong and growing business and we need to adapt to reflect the way our customers choose to shop with us."

The shopworkers' union Usdaw said the sites will close in April or May.

National officer David Johnson said: "The closure of Shop Direct sites and the subsequent loss of so many jobs will come as terrible news for our members.

"Usdaw opposes the closures and we will be examining the business case in further detail through our national forums to see if there is any way to avoid the closures.

"Should these closures go ahead, we will be doing all we can to ensure that our members receive the best possible redundancy package and are kept fully informed throughout the process at this time of uncertainty."