As capitalist-owned enterprises lay off workers and cut wages, the worker-owned store John Lewis – consistently voted one of the best for customer service by consumers – pays out a 13% bonus to staff. Why? Because they own the business – they won’t be asking themselves to take a pay cut!
I’m not saying that John Lewis is some kind of paradise in a sea of exploitation – it isn’t, but clearly, workers owning the enterprises in which they work is no impediment to building successful businesses (sales are up!) and responding to consumer demand (Waitrose are brining out a budget range, for example) whilst at the same time “sharing the proceeds of growth”, to coin a phrase.*
From Wednesday’s Guardian:
The annual bonus paid to John Lewis’s 70,000 staff has shrunk by almost a third after profits at the partnership were hit by the recession.
But staff still cheered the news that they will receive a bonus of nearly seven weeks’ pay, down from 10 weeks’ pay a year ago.
Because John Lewis is owned by its staff, every one of them – from the boardroom to the shop floor – receives the same percentage payout. This year it is equal to 13% of basic salary for staff at the Waitrose supermarket chain and John Lewis department stores.
At the John Lewis store on Oxford Street this morning, more than 1,000 shop staff hung over the balconies to learn what their annual bonus would be.
In the well of the atrium, Noel Saunders, managing director of the store, worked the crowd like a game show host, hinting the highest partners could expect was a 12% payout.
At 9.28am, as partners counted down from 10, his assistant Paul Thomas – who has worked in the floor coverings department for 20 years and was selected for scoring excellent results from mystery shoppers – fumbled with the envelope before pulling out a giant card bearing the figure 13%.
As customers peered through the doors, partners erupted, celebrating the bonus payment after a tough year on the shop floor.
The total bonus payout for 2008 is £125.5m, down from £180m for 2007.
“The key difference is this is a genuine bonus based on profit-sharing,” said Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. “The word ‘bonus’ has become discredited in the economy, but for us it is something to celebrate. Our partners have worked harder than ever to achieve these results.”
The feel-good atmosphere pervaded all six floors with no grumbles from partners that the bonus fell short of last year’s bumper payout.
“Last year, 20% was a fantastic result, but in the current climate we are really happy to get a bonus as we see people around us losing their jobs,” said Charlotte Deane, who will use her bonus to catch up with her sister, who is travelling in California. “However much it is, it is a bonus, not a benefit, and I feel lucky to get it.”
Most staff canvassed expect to use the extra cash on a holiday. Indira Vakeria said she was planning a trip to India to visit her parents. “We are really pleased with 13%,” she said.
The company reported that its profits fell by 26% in 2008 to £279.6m. Chairman Charlie Mayfield warned that 2009 would be “another very difficult trading year”.
“Trading conditions worsened markedly during the year as the problems in the financial sector reduced consumer confidence to a low level,” he said.
The partnership conceded it would no longer be able to hit its target of opening 10 stores in 10 years. It has already opened four, including branches in Liverpool and Cambridge, but beyond its new Cardiff store this autumn, and a shop at the Olympic site in Stratford slated for 2011, it said its aggressive growth plan would be “delayed”.
The company said it remained optimistic that two stores across the Irish Sea, one in Lisburn in Northern Ireland and one in Dublin, would open as planned but warned that other projects, including stores in Crawley and Portsmouth, might be held up. Retail schemes around the country are being mothballed as property developers grapple with funding shortfalls and collapsing asset values. Mayfield said the retailer was “working actively with developers to maintain our rate of growth” and remained committed to the expansion plan.
It is just over a year since John Lewis first admitted that its sales were being hit by the high street downturn. By the autumn, when the UK economy was contracting, the company was reporting double-digit falls in weekly sales.
* Please, don’t misunderstand me, I doubt that the Tories – expected to win the next UK election – will fulfill their promise of “sharing the proceeds” by forcing Tesco to become a cooperative. This is something the unions need to take up with New Labour, though…