M&S whistleblower hauled across the coals

More controversy surrounds M&S, after reports that its recent whistleblower is facing disciplinary action...

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

According to the GMB union, the employee who blew the whistle on M&S’s plans to cut redundancy payments has now been suspended from his job and faces a disciplinary hearing next Monday. Although M&S refused to confirm this, the GMB is accusing it of a completely disproportionate reaction. ‘He’s only aired widely held views and concerns about the changes being proposed,’ complained the union’s legal affairs officer in today’s Times. ‘They’re acting as though he’s responsible for stealing the Colonel’s secret recipe.’ Clearly a big KFC fan then.

The row surrounds a memo sent by the retailer to its 70,000 staff, proposing to reduce its redundancy payments by about 25%. Under the amended scheme, the maximum payment would fall from 70 weeks salary to 50 weeks – so employees with 30 years of service would see their pay-out drop from £35,000 to £26,000, according to the GMB’s calculator department. The union is hopping mad that the lower orders of M&S are being squeezed at the same time as former food director Steven Esom (who was eased out amid disappointing sales) allegedly pocketed a £500,000 pay-off. And he’d only been there a year.

The story does look bad for M&S, if it’s true. The employee in question had apparently been with the company for 25 years, and it’s hard to believe that he was the only one of 70,000 outraged by the proposals. Equally, surely the retailer can’t have expected such a widely-available memo to stay private – and if all it’s doing (as it claims) is updating its policy to bring it more into line with market norms, why is it so concerned about the information getting into the public domain? One thing’s for sure: if it’s looking to reassure staff about future redundancies and build bridges after the recent turmoil, this seems a rather odd way of doing it.

Not that this will be much consolation to the whistleblower himself, we suspect. Although whistleblowers are legally protected in certain circumstances (as defined by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998) this protection is unlikely to apply here – the issue wouldn’t appear to meet any of the disclosure requirements, and leaking it to the press is generally a bit of a no-no. So his chances of receiving any redundancy pay whatsoever (let alone 70 weeks) are looking slimmer by the minute...


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