Half of employers will allow time off to watch England

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The Independent Online

Almost half of employers plan to take government advice and give staff time off to watch the World Cup, a survey by The Independent has discovered.

Rather than risk a walkout by employees, many of the biggest private-sector companies have made arrangements to screen England's games in Japan, some of which kick off at breakfast time.

Televisions will be installed in shops, offices and warehouses around the country. British Gas has gone one step further to keep its engineers happy: they will be texted with all the latest from England's group games against Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria.

Staff at the Carphone Warehouse, Britain's biggest mobile telephone chain, which employs 3,645 staff, have been told they can down tools.

Those hoping to pick up their groceries from Somerfield may wish to think again.

A spokesman for the store, which employs 60,000, said: "We are very keen that anyone who wants to watch may be able to do so. Staff will either be able to watch on television or they will get the time off. These arrangements are on the orders of chief executive Alan Smith."

A spokesman for Halfords, the car-parts retailer with 9,000 employees, said: "The executive is actively encouraging its stores to arrange the working rotas to fit in with the needs of football fans as much as possible."

Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, urged employers to show flexibility during the tournament to avoid a mass "sickie". She recommended that staff be able to watch the games and allowed to make up time by coming in before play started or by working later.

England's group matches in Japan start in the first week of June and kick off between 7.30am and 12.30pm UK time. "We all want to watch England do well in the World Cup but clearly the timing of the England matches will be an issue for employers," Ms Hewitt said.

Of 100 firms polled, 44 said they planned to make special arrangements and 24 more were waiting to gauge the level of interest before deciding. Only 32 firms risked the wrath of staff – and absenteeism on match days – by insisting on business as usual. Among them is Consignia, formerly the Post Office and one Britain's biggest employers with a pay-roll of 207,000. In what may be a further blow to already strained industrial relations, a spokesman said: "Most of our employees' shifts run from 6am to 1pm. If people don't get their mail, they won't be amused."

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