Hatfield key workers tell Ocado ‘we are clearly not in this together’

Ocado logo

Ocado logo - Credit: Archant

Key workers at Ocado’s headquarters – who worked in-office throughout the first wave of the pandemic – feel let down by a company they trusted and who claimed “we are in it together”.

Ocado in Hatfield. Picture: Google Street View

Ocado in Hatfield. Picture: Google Street View - Credit: Archant

The online food shop is proposing to move its 240 plus call centre jobs to Sunderland – where they could be hit by a wage reduction from almost £24,000 to £19,200, according to recent job listings – in what Ocado claims is a business decision.

But staff think this was planned since the Sunderland call centre opened this year – even though the WHT has learnt they were reassured in November 2018 this was a space issue – and the information was kept from them until they were at their most vulnerable.

A leaked communiqué from Ocado also reveals that if jobs are not taken in Sunderland under a new contract, or secured through alternative employment locally – which Ocado will give “consideration for” – staff will be made redundant.

The Hatfield call centre workers have not yet been given an end date but Ocado said sometime in November, which has caused concern as it is a month before Christmas and during a pandemic when businesses are hiring fewer staff.

“It was hard during the pandemic. We were working in-person, especially for vulnerable families. Some had to self-isolate when they thought they had caught coronavirus. And some moved out of family homes to keep their loved ones safe,” a man his late 20s said.

According to the member who has been there awhile, the announcement on Monday also left staff in tears, who staged a walk out, and have not gone back to answering customers’ enquiries with the same enthusiasm.

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Another worker told the WHT a similar story, and said: “We were all called to a meeting and informed that we were no longer needed and that Ocado had no plans to keep the Hatfield contact centre open.

“They advised this was due to wanting the contact centre in one location despite us being informed from management that having two sites was the initial plan and not to worry about the new contact centre being built in Sunderland.

“The meeting did not address the wage gap between us and the Sunderland staff. Cutting all 240 staff from Hatfield will save Ocado £1 million in wages.”

A further kick in the teeth for staff has been the growth of Ocado, which has seen its retail profit double since last year due to the move online. Tim Steiner, Ocado’s chief executive, is on the Times Rich List and earned £58.7 million in 2019.

“For a company that is profiting from increased sales due to the pandemic and share prices rising all of us felt as though we had been used and do not believe for one second that the decision was made to have only one office but instead has been a way to save more money.

“We were forced to come in to work during the pandemic as key workers to ensure the our customers received their deliveries, worked overtime and put ourselves and our families at risk from the virus, working tirelessly and adapting through the changes in procedures.

“It was the Hatfield contact centre that kept the deliveries going and helping customers with their deliveries whilst unbeknownst to us the plans were already in motion to have Sunderland trained up. No one in Hatfield has anything against the advisors in Sunderland at all, they too were under the impression two call centres would remain.

“The news was devastating for all advisors and management - no thank you for everything we had done - nothing.

“After we all refused to work, we were told to go home and the following day higher management did not stay at our office to provide information or answer questions they just left us to it - those not on shift and night team staff were not informed by them. They had to find out through other staff or by email when they arrived at work.

“The atmosphere is dreadful, work is stacking up as the Sunderland staff can’t cope through lack of training as they tried to bolster the head count quickly before making us redundant.

“I feel sorry for the customers who will no longer receive the customer service they are used to through lack of training of new staff as they will struggle with the new changes, a potential lockdown and Christmas which is our busiest time of year.

“They keep saying that they will integrate us into other positions but there is not 240 positions available so we know that this will not happen and is a PR statement to make it seem not as bad as it is. Our only option a month before Christmas is to consider a move 250 miles away to Sunderland or be unemployed. Most members of staff will get no redundancy.

“Other companies including banks and phone companies have had staff working from home for ages and are able to operate from multiple locations so the excuse of ‘working from one location’ is a cop out and a way to hide the fact that this a decision based on a highly profitable company screwing over staff to cut costs. I would understand if they were losing money but they are making huge profits right now.”

An Ocado spokesman said in a response: “We are proposing that our Hatfield Contact Centre close, and the roles transfer to our existing purpose-built contact centre in Sunderland. The proposal will keep the overall headcount the same, but have the entire contact service operation operate under one roof.

“Should the proposal go ahead, all Hatfield Contact Centre colleagues would be offered a relocation package to Sunderland, or have the option to be redeployed into other Ocado Logistics roles. In the event that a colleague chooses not to take these options, there may be redundancies although our ultimate aim is to keep as many people in our business as possible.”