Sainsbury’s store closure sparks Brexit pull-out fears
The planned closure of one of Sainsbury’s stores and its petrol station in Northern Ireland early next year has sparked fears that the supermarket may be reconsidering its future here.
Unite says more than 100 workers’ jobs are at risk and questioned whether Brexit was a factor in the decision.
Sainsbury’s said the decision to close its Craigavon store and petrol station was “not taken lightly and is based on a range of factors”.
Describing the decision as “difficult”, the supermarket said it is doing everything it can to find alternative roles within Sainsbury’s.
Staff at the store said they were told of the closure ‘in a huddle’ this morning.
Unite regional officer Taryn Trainor called on the company to ensure that 109 workers who now face the prospect of losing their jobs are redeployed.
The supermarket would not confirm how many workers are affected, and how many can be redeployed, but said the store and filling station will close early next year.
Ms Trainor said: “This morning’s announcement will be hugely concerning news for the 109 workers at the Craigavon supermarket who now face the prospect of losing their livelihoods in the mouth of Christmas. Unite has been on the ground engaging with our members to charter a course to secure protections and guarantees from this employer.
“There is absolutely no excuse for this decision. Last year and despite the pandemic lockdown, the company still made a clear profit before tax of £356 million pounds. Sales have surged in the last quarter suggesting that the company will make even higher profits in the year to come.
‘Paying the price’
“Sadly however, this company expects the workers employed at its Craigavon site to pay the price for increasing those profits even further – as their store is not judged profitable enough.
“We are seeking guarantees that the mostly low-paid workers facing the threat of joblessness will be found alternative employment elsewhere with costs of redeployment being met by Sainsbury’s. It is unconscionable that a worker earning a bare living wage of £9.50 an hour should not be expected to cover such costs.”
Ms Trainor also called on Sainsbury’s to confirm its commitment to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland retail market.
“There are fears that this closure could be a weathervane for more to come. The rationale offered by Sainsbury’s for this closure include changing demographics which makes little sense except that as a cover for the impact of post-Brexit trading arrangements under the Northern Ireland Protocol,” she said.
“Sainsbury’s has been extremely vocal in recent months highlighting the impact of Brexit on reduced choice of products on shelves here in Northern Ireland. They have also had to use competitors to supply stores in Northern Ireland. These factors would obviously impact profits.
“We need have a commitment from Sainsbury’s that they are committed to Northern Ireland for the long-term. Unite will be engaging with our members in this store to determine our next steps in response to this devastating announcement,” said Ms Trainor.
The supermarket has said customers could continue to shop online and at its stores in the surrounding area, including Dungannon, Armagh and Lisburn.
Sainsbury’s partnered with local wholesaler Henderson’s early this year to help manage post-Brexit disruption. The move meant availability “hasn’t been affected as much as I initially feared”, Emer Compston, store manager for Sainsbury’s Craigavon, said last month.
Sainsbury’s said it had dropped to a £261m loss in April as a result of Covid-related costs and more than £600m of restructuring charges for its Argos transformation programme. This offset its surge in revenues, with grocery sales for the year up 7.8%.
Sainsbury’s employees have been notified of the decision to close the store and petrol station next year, a company spokeswoman said.
“We understand this will be an unsettling time for those affected and we are doing everything we can to find alternative roles within Sainsbury’s,” she said.
The supermarket giant said that in the year to 6 March, Covid costs “to help keep our colleagues and customers safe” had been “high”.
However, it said it expected profits to bounce back in the coming year.
Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart said: “This announcement has come as a huge shock to staff and to the wider community. This store is very popular and Craigavon has proven itself to be a strong base for retail.
“Indeed the Rushmere Centre has recently had the news that Primark is taking up the former Debenhams unit and this will drive footfall even more.
“While there is lead in time to closure obviously this is a difficult time for staff. I trust that support can be provided to them to secure alternative employment and anyone needing guidance can contact me for signposting to support.”
SDLP Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly has said the closure of the Sainsbury’s store at Rushmere Shopping Centre in Craigavon is a huge jobs blow for the area.
The Upper Bann MLA said: “This announcement is devastating news for staff and shoppers in this area who frequent this store. For 109 staff to potentially lose their jobs in the run-up to Christmas is a huge jobs blow. This area has long suffered from a chronic lack of investment and this is evidenced by the already high unemployment locally and this news will only make things worse.
“This closure will also leave this huge store empty, while I hope it will be filled by another shop as soon as possible there are only a limited number of companies capable of taking on this huge space. This is the latest in a long line of business closures in this area and we need to see an Executive strategy to revitalise this town and the many other towns across the North that find themselves in the same position.
“Questions have also been raised about what led to this decision with Sainsbury’s making large pre-tax profits last year, with many local people relying on this store during the coronavirus lockdown. My office will be liaising with the staff affected to see what assistance can be offered and I hope that they secure alternative employment soon.”