Oxford author Philip Pullman has backed furloughed Waterstones staff who were told they will not receive any increase to their wages until shops can reopen.

He is among those who have signed a petition calling on the book chain to help workers who are being paid below minimum wage on the scheme. 

A petition signed by more than 1,500 people so far, including more than 100 Waterstones workers, has been published on Organise.

Oxford Mail:

Addressed to Waterstones managing director James Daunt and chief operating officer Kate Skipper, it says that the majority of Waterstones staff are employed either on or very close to the minimum wage, and that upon being furloughed, they find themselves “plunged beneath this line and into financial uncertainty”.

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The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows a company to claim 80% of an employee’s usual salary, but does not protect furloughed workers from falling beneath minimum wage.

The petition claims some Waterstones workers are “struggling to pay bills, borrowing money to make ends meet, turning to charity just to survive”.

Testimonies from anonymous staff include a senior bookseller who has been with the company for 18 years, who had turned to food banks after seeing their monthly pay drop to £170 beneath minimum wage since being furloughed.

“I have a partner and two small kids to keep on that, and we’re struggling,” they wrote.

Another staff member, who has been with Waterstones for more than a decade, says they would not be able to pay rent this month, while another said they had been forced to turn to their housemate for help covering bills.

Oxford Mail:

Ms Skipper said the chain planned a 2.75% pay rise from 1 April 2021 – or from when it can reopen the majority of its shops. This follows a pay rise last April.

She told the Guardian that petitions "provoke considerable social media and other reporting on Waterstones, much of it damaging".

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She added: "We regret this, and regret especially also if any bookseller feels unable to discuss their concerns, whether with their HR representative, anyone from the retail team, myself or any of the management team.

"I realise this is an unbelievably tough and desperate time for so many people but to continue to protect the business, and thereby importantly to deliver our aim to pay more, we need to survive – and ultimately to prosper. Please consider how best that can be achieved."

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