Woolworths shutdown set for 5 January

Kelly Macnamara,Russell Lynch,Pa
Wednesday 17 December 2008 15:30 GMT

All Woolworths' stores will shut by 5 January, administrators confirmed today. The move affects 22,000 permanent staff and 5,000 temporary workers.

Deloitte said around 200 of the company's 807 stores would close by 27 December, followed by a second batch of 200 on 30 December, 200 on January 2 and the final closures on 5 January.

The moves will affect 22,000 permanent staff and 5,000 temporary workers, although some will be kept on for a short period.

Deloitte said it had received interest from other retailers for 300 Woolworths stores.

The corporate recovery firm confirmed the closure plan after failing to secure a buyer for the business.

Deloitte is set to flood stores with 50 million extra items over the next week in the final run-up to Christmas. Discounts already running at up to 60 pert cent will be even heavier as the administrator looks to clear stock.

Signs in stores will also show a countdown to their final closure dates to encourage shoppers as Woolies' staff brace themselves for redundancies.

Joint administrator Neville Khan said: "I guess it is a very difficult situation for a lot of people, particularly the staff, and we are trying to deal with it in as sensitive a way as possible."

But he raised hopes that jobs could be saved, saying that - as far as possible under privacy laws - Deloitte would pass on the details of current Woolies employees to the buyers of the stores.

Mr Khan also revealed that administrators are in talks over the sale of Woolworths trademark and its Worth It! value brand, meaning that the famous retailer may not disappear from the high street altogether in the long term.

"I think Woolworths will come back on to the high street... whether it will remain into the early part of 2009, that is not so certain," he added.

Shopworkers' union Usdaw said it was "appalled" at the news, adding it had been told every store would be given just 10 days' notice before they closed and staff would be asked to work up to three days afterwards to clear up.

The union said staff would be notified of the locations of the phased store closures in four stages over the next few days.

National officer John Gorle said: "We are shocked that staff will only be given 10 days notice of store closures and deeply disappointed by the news that no buyer has yet been found for Woolworths. Redundancy is devastating at any time of the year, but particularly so at Christmas.

"We have been informed by the administrators that the leases of up to 300 stores will be sold. This is terrible news, as it means that our members will be made redundant and not transferred to the new owners of these 300 leases as they are announced.

"In anticipation of redundancies we sent out a detailed letter to our members at the end of last week, giving information on their rights. We are currently talking with the administrators to secure the best possible terms for our members with regards to pensions, holiday pay and the speed of receipt of redundancy pay.

"We have also called on the Government to ensure that its rapid response teams at the local jobcentres will be ready to help staff to find new employment as quickly as possible.

"This is an extremely distressing time and we will be doing everything we can to make sure our members are treated fairly."

General secretary John Hannett added: "I am personally devastated for the Woolworths staff and our members can rest assured we will do everything we can to assist them at this difficult time. The Woolworths staff are extremely loyal, dedicated and well trained and wherever vacancies exist in the retail sector we will use our contacts to find alternative employment as speedily as possible."

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