Apparently, the supermarket wants to jazz up stores – part of which will be to invest more into its fresh produce departments (meat counter, bakery, fruit and veg, etc). So many of the new jobs will be keeping fresh produce ‘looking well presented’, according to UK CEO Richard Brasher: ‘not just at 8 o’clock in the morning, but 8 o’clock in the evening, when customers come into a shop,’ he told Sky News today. So, 20,000 people will be employed to polish tomatoes for 12 hours a day – an army of fruit and veg fluffers, if you will. This couldn’t, by any chance, have something to do with those Right to Work campaigners, could it?
To be fair, the company has a lot of reputation polishing to do. Not only was there work experience-gate, but it admitted back in January that Christmas sales hadn’t quite met expectations: like-for-like sales excluding VAT and petrol fell by 2.3%. Not only did that mean it had to issue its first profit warning in 20 years, but it also caused £5bn to be wiped off its value in one day (which makes the news this morning that Ocado sales are up by 10% that little bit more upsetting for Tesco). And, with 290,000 workers already slogging it out every day in Tesco stores, an extra 20,000 just to placate a few half-hearted protestors might seem frivolous, but not entirely unreasonable.
But UK CEO Richard Brasher said this morning that the announcement’s serendipity is precisely that: a coincidence. ‘[That it’s a PR stunt is] clearly not true,’ he spluttered. ‘I couldn’t plan this in a couple of weeks’. Fair enough – although analysts have already raised questions as to how many of the jobs will go to new workers, and how many will involve existing staff being shuffled around.
But while Tesco couldn’t answer questions about how many of the new jobs would go to full-time workers, it did say half would be apprenticeships, ‘with a significant proportion for new starters’. Considering a quarter of Tesco’s workforce is under 25, the age group worst-hit by job cuts during the downturn, that’s got to be good news.
Thus, David Cameron was delighted, giving his full backing to the idea. Shareholders, on the other hand, might not be so pleased: the supermarket admitted that, along with investment in store interiors, the new jobs scheme will ‘wipe out’ profit growth for this year.
More details will be announced along with the supermarket’s annual results in April, but Nomura, joint broker for Tesco, reckons it’ll spend about £300m on its UK business.