The struggling tour giant Thomas Cook today slashed 2,500 jobs and unveiled plans to close nearly 200 high street travel agents.
The 170 year-old firm - which takes 6 million people in the UK on holiday every year - revealed the news to shocked staff this morning.
The job cuts amount to one in six of its 15,500 workforce in the UK & Ireland. Around 1,600 jobs will be cut in its travel agents as 195 stores close, leaving it with 874 outlets. The remaining 900 jobs will go in head office roles.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which represents employees, said it was “shocked and angry” at the scale of the job losses. General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “This constant policy of slash and burn, with the axing of one in four stores and the loss of jobs, is simply self-defeating.”
But management said the cuts were needed to restore the health of the operator, which slipped to a £590 million loss in its last financial year.
An ill-timed swoop for the Co-operative’s travel business left the company with too many UK travel agents and in November 2011 it was forced to turn to its lenders for an extra £200 million in funding.
Thomas Cook’s UK and European chief Peter Fankhauser said: “It is never easy to make decisions that impact directly on our people, but we also owe it to our customers to operate efficiently and ensure that when they book their holiday with us our administrative costs are as low as possible.”
Mr Fankhauser said Thomas Cook was planning to open its travel agencies on bank holidays and Sundays, while also potentially extending opening hours during the week in an effort to meet customer demand.
Stores will likewise be better staffed in peak trading times, such as lunch hours.
But he confirmed this will mean changes in working patterns for many of its retail staff.
Thomas Cook insisted it would maintain a "strong presence on the high street", adding that the stores being earmarked for closure did not meet performance targets or were in areas where the group has more than one retail outlet.
Many of the stores being closed are Co-operative Travel stores after Thomas Cook and Co-op merged their high street businesses in 2011.
Thomas Cook has already axed more than 1,100 jobs over the past year, including around 250 retail staff.
It also said today it planned to change staff terms and conditions for remaining workers.
Sharon Ainsworth, national officer of Usdaw, said: "Even those who are not at risk of redundancy are facing the prospect of cuts to their benefits packages, following a number of cost-cutting proposals which the business has put forward.
"We will be examining these proposals closely and will defend our members' interests throughout this uncertain time.
"We will be doing all we can to support all of our members during the difficult weeks and months ahead."
Thomas Cook's group-wide boss Harriet Green, who joined the company as chief executive from electronics firm Premier Farnell last year, has been leading a turnaround plan at ThomasCook.
She announced aims to cut a further £100 million in costs last November, with £40 million coming from its airline business and an extra £35 million being saved by stripping out "duplication" in its structure.