Wetherspoon pub chain boss Tim Martin has told his staff to consider working at Tesco during the coronavirus lockdown as he is not likely to be able to pay them until the end of April.
Staff were unsurprisingly fuming that the business – with an annual turnover of £1.8 billion – would be relying on government grants to pay workers, that it may not be available until the end of April, and may not be backdated.
Workers have sent a letter to the Brexiteer pub chain demanding full pay, after their bonuses were also stripped, only to be told by Martin that they will have to turn to supermarkets for work.
The pub chain boss last week called for pubs to remain open, claiming there are no signs of transmission of the coronavirus in his establishments.
In a video message issued to staff, he said: ‘I’m very sorry about the situation that has occurred with our pubs. They’ve been shut as you know.
‘Unprecedented in the last 40 years and it puts everyone in a terribly difficult position.
‘And I know you’re all sitting there wondering what the hell is happening and over the weekend I had lots of phone calls with different people and we’re trying to sort it out as best we can in this highly unusual situation.’
Martin said that the firm – unlike some major chains like Costa – will not be paying staff anything on top of the government grant while pubs are shut, and said it may be beneficial for them to go work for a supermarket if they needed to pay bills before the payments come through.
He said: ‘I know that all our trade now has gone to supermarkets. Not only our trade, but the trade from cafés, leisure centres, restaurants etc.
‘So we have had lots of calls from supermarkets, Tesco alone want 20,000 people to join them. That’s half the amount of people who work in our pubs.’
‘If I’m honest, I could say you can get the furlough payments and stay at home.
‘[But] if you’re offered a job at a supermarket, many of you will want to do that. If you think it’s a good idea, do it.
‘I can completely understand it. If you’ve worked for us before I promise we will give you first preference if you want to come back.
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‘I completely understand if you don’t want to wait around for us to reopen but deeply appreciate your work.’
If staff do choose to go elsewhere they will not be eligible for the support from the government grant.
An upset worker told The New European: ‘He had clearly stated in the video that if you reapply when this all does blow over you might not get your job back. In my opinion, this was the worst thing for staff morale. Not once did he express any empathy for us.’
They added the worries are on top of fears about the economic impact of Brexit, still scheduled to have happened at the end of the year.
The staff member continued: ‘A lot of students are still worried, with Brexit and now this virus we have probably chosen the worst year ever to graduate, jobs will be scarce and I’m pretty sure we’ll be at the job centre in our gowns… if we even get to physically graduate.’
Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said workers would all be receiving pay for those hours worked until the pubs closed at the end of the week.
He said: ‘Wetherspoon sent a video by the chairman Tim Martin, a letter from chief executive John Hutson and other information to all employees.
‘In those communications it made clear that all employees would get paid this Friday for all work carried out until the pubs shut.
‘After that, the company would utilise the government ‘furlough’ scheme, which pays 80% of wages.
‘As we understand it, tens of thousands of hospitality workers and others have already lost their jobs, but Wetherspoon is retaining all its employees, using the government scheme for the purpose for which it is intended.’