M&S Edinburgh: Marks and Spencer's Princes Street staff clash with supermarket bosses over “dangerous” working hours

Marks and Spencer bosses have been accused of putting staff at risk by ordering them to start food hall shifts at 5am.

By Shona Elliott
Monday, 26th July 2021, 4:55 am

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Worried workers have been offered personal attack alarm after criticising the “harsh” new start times that force them to walk through the city at night.

Instead of the usual 7.30am morning shifts a new rota will see 5am starts, which require many employees to catch a 4am bus and walk along Princes Street in the dark.

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Employees said the new start times put their personal safety at risk.

M&S managers have offered staff personal safety alarms to take on their commute but have refused requests to change shift patterns back.

Workers say they are unable to reject the new rota over fears of losing their job but are “terrified” about the new shift patterns.

“Lives could be put in danger if we are forced to commute in the dark and walk along Princes Street in the early hours of the morning,” said one employee.

“It’s when people from the clubs and pubs will usually be spilling out onto the street and it’s not safe.

It is hoped the devices will keep the staff safe but many remain concerned.

“Managers have offered some of the girls personal safety alarms because they have to go under an underpass at 4am to get to work - I feel terrified for them.”

M&S bosses said new start times are “reasonable” and “necessary”

Workers asked store chiefs to allow them to opt-out of the new start times if they did not have a safe way to commute to work.

While staff with childcare issues on medical ill-health can opt-out of the new work time, people fearing for their personal safety cannot.

After an internal investigation, supermarket heads rejected these requests and concluded that the new start times were “reasonable” and “necessary”.

Staff were even presented with facts about their home address, where their nearest bus stop is and how to get there.

But at least one worker is set to quit while another was told that the darkened underpass they will be forced to use has CCTV for their ‘safety’.

The new rota will be implemented on Sunday, August 8, following a four week notice period.

A spokesperson from M&S said: “When agreeing shifts, we always consider individual circumstances and we do tailor working hours around this.

“For example, our guidance specifically focuses on childcare, late night buses and walking through unsafe areas.

“If any colleague has concerns, we strongly encourage them to speak to their line manager.“

M&S refused to comment when asked if the new working hours would make staff less safe and did not provide information about how ‘unsafe areas’ were pinpointed.

The spokesperson emphasised that changes to working hours were required to ensure the shop was ready to open on time.

They added: “To ensure our stores are ready for customers at the start of each day, some of our colleagues do start their shifts before the store opens”

I said I felt totally uncomfortable but I was told there was no leeway

Prior to the introduction of working hour changes, staff attended to one-to-ones with their line managers.

While childcare difficulties and medical ill-health were accepted as reasons to opt-out of the 5am shifts, staff fearing for their personal safety were told that they had to work these shifts.

One member of staff said: “In my one-to-one, I raised concerns about walking down the road, in the middle of the night, in the dark by myself.

“I said I felt totally uncomfortable with the new start times but I was told there was no leeway, they looked up a 4am bus for me and said I would have to get that.

“I was really hurt and felt totally worthless, basically it was take the 5am start or there's the way out.

“It felt terrible because I feel like I've been forced out and I don’t want to stop working.”

This is a drastic change which compromises the safety of staff

Unite Scotland criticised M&S for lack of consideration given to employees safety.

The union also voiced frustration that employers often feel like they can change working hours without taking into account staff concerns.

Unite Scotland deputy Mary Alexander said: "Employers seem to think they have Carte Blanche to change working hours and contracts Without proper consultation and taking into account staff concerns.

“This is a drastic change which compromises the safety of staff who are largely women and seriously disrupts their work life balance and caring responsibilities."

Employees have been left devastated by the changes to working hours with one long time staffer saying it’s just one of many injustices they have faced in recent years.

She said: “M&S is a good place to work but it’s not the same as before, pay used to be the best out of all UK supermarkets and it’s not one of the worst.

“Bonuses have also been taken away and even the chairs at the tills have gone. It’s all been chipping away for years, they (M&S) cared about their staff when I started but now you are just a number.”

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