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Marks and Spencer should think again

17 May 2001 - At a press briefing before the ETUC/UNI demonstration calling on Marks and Spencer to reconsider closure of their European operations TUC General Secretary John Monks said:

'Today's actions focus on two issues.

'First we join with our colleagues from the rest of Europe in calling on Marks and Spencer to withdraw its proposals to close all its European operations. These are not losing money, they are profitable. The closure had more to do with impressing City sentiment than it did with the real business interests of Marks and Spencer.

'Second we want to raise the wider issues of the rights of workers faced with redundancy. Marks and Spencer thought they could export the UK's easy hire and fire rules to the rest of Europe. They were proved wrong when the French courts fined them, and told them to start the procedures again.

'It is still not too late for Marks and Spencer's management to think again and not close the European operations and the mail order business in the UK. These are not lame duck operations.

'Our argument is not against Marks and Spencer but against these particular decisions. We want Marks and Spencer to be successful and profitable. It's a great British institution and a key outlet for many UK businesses - even after its recent and regrettable decisions to source more clothing abroad.

'But it is not just M&S employees who have found they have been sacked with no real notice. Behaviour that is both illegal and unacceptable in France is all too common here as workers in Corus, Vauxhall and many others have found.

'That is why today we are renewing our call for the swift passage of the European Directive on Information and Consultation. This would require all companies employing more than fifty to talk to and consult their staff on a continuing basis - not just when it's too late and redundancies are a fait accompli - to use the French term. particularly appropriate today.

'We are glad to see that the Swedish EU Presidency have put this on the agenda for the June 11th Social Affairs Council meeting. The UK government has opposed this, but are looking increasingly isolated on an issue that can be resolved by qualified majority voting. Rather than simply saying that it will not fit with British traditions, ministers should accept the principle that information and consultation is good for employees and business alike, and work with unions and employers here to make sure the measures fit our traditions without compromising their intent.'

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