More than 300 jobs are expected to go at Evans Cycles, and hundreds of remaining store staff are to be switched to zero-hours contracts, as Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group aims to slash costs.
The 55-store bicycle retailer, which Frasers bought out of administration in 2018 when it had 62 outlets, has told staff it intends to cut up to half of the workforce in many stores despite booming trade for bike retailers during the pandemic.
Sales of bikes have soared as people have sought an alternative to public transport and a leisure activity suitable for lockdown life.
A document sent out to Evans staff says management will also have to work more hours. They will move from 40-hour contracts to 45 hours, but all other store staff will be switched from fixed-hours contracts, which usually guarantee at least eight hours a week, to what it calls “casual worker agreements” – Frasers’ term for zero-hours contracts.
It said the group would employ about 475 staff in stores, down from 813 in the latest figures filed at Companies House.
A note to staff said: “We cannot rely on old ways of running our business and we must adapt. These changes will look to address the cost of sales ratio in our stores and ensure that we are able to be more flexible with our cost base out of peak trading and during difficult trading periods.”
One store worker said that the job cuts came on top of “very difficult working conditions” during the pandemic.
The employee said that all store workers had been told they must reapply for their jobs in the coming weeks. “This last year has been awful since [Frasers] started changing things. It’s been one indignity after another.”
The switch to zero-hours contracts brings Evans into line with other Frasers outlets including Sports Direct shops and Flannels, where staff are not guaranteed regular work despite the high prices on its designer clothing.
Five years ago, Ashley’s retail group, then known as Sports Direct, pledged to ditch zero-hours contracts after heavy criticism from unions and MPs.
Ashley, the billionaire owner of Newcastle United, apologised to staff and promised to turn the business into “one of the best employers in Britain”.
A year later, the then chairman Keith Hellawell said the group would continue using the contracts claiming “a huge proportion of workers are happy to retain the flexibility”.
A spokesperson for the shopworkers’ union Usdaw called on the government to ban zero-hours contracts: “It is not acceptable for workers to be put on contracts that don’t guarantee them any hours at all. There is a real danger that, as the impact of coronavirus begins to show on the economy, more workers will feel forced to take zero-hours contracts as they have no other options.”