El Corte Inglés loses more than 20,000 workers in the last two crises

In Inmaculada Vázquez’s room there is a framed photo. She appears with some of the El Corte Inglés managers in November 2019, proudly receiving a badge for her 15 years as an employee. Last Friday, this 39-year-old Cordovan based in Linares, processed the strike by phone after closing the shopping center in her municipality. Hurt by the end of a work idyll that began to take shape just after coming of age, her farewell to a company that for decades has been synonymous with almost civilian stability has ceased to be a rarity: the department store company’s workforce it has dropped by more than 20,000 workers since 2007, just before the Great Recession, when it peaked at 109,800 employees. The reduction of personnel has not always led to the departure of workers, since there have been organic decisions such as the sales in 2019 of the IT division – with more than 2,000 employees – to the French group GFI, and that of Óptica 2000 – more than 700 workers – to the Dutch Grandvision. And in many cases the group has resorted to alternatives to dismissal, such as retirements or the 2016 voluntary redundancy plan, which was used by more than 1,300 employees over 58 years of age.

Plunged into a new crisis due to the lethal combination of the pandemic restrictions and the change in consumer habits, which have redirected their credit cards towards electronic commerce, another 3,000 employees will soon be added to that list in the first ERE of its history, a drastic measure that, unlike other large companies such as Banco Santander or Telefónica, until now it had managed to avoid.

According to its 2019 non-financial report, the company had 88,268 workers at the end of that fiscal year (February 29, 2020), 64% of them women – only 4.2% at the highest level, that of executives. and managers—, with an average salary of 24,055 euros, and 89.6% with a permanent contract. That still makes it one of the largest employers in the country. El Corte Inglés has more personnel on the payroll than there are active soldiers in the Spanish army, and a good part of them usually develop a long career in the company: the average seniority is 15.2 years. However, their number has fallen in recent years, and as unions acknowledge, the announcement of layoffs in the midst of reorganization due to stagnant revenues has increased uncertainty. If the average full-time workforce is analyzed, the drop is similar: 97,328 in 2007 compared to 78,739 in its last report.

Losing weight means reversing the expansive policy of the first decade of this century, when centers equipped with large staff were inaugurated and growth seemed to have no ceiling. Their numbers have been dwindling without making too much noise. According to the unions, fewer temporary staff have been renewed and fewer retirements have been covered. This is recognized by the company itself in its non-financial report for 2019. “The number of employees at the end of the year has decreased by 1,736 people compared to the previous year, mainly due to retirements, voluntary resignations and contract terminations. The greater efficiency in the organization of human resources has made it possible to compensate for the decrease in the workforce, maintaining the quality and service that characterize the company ”.

There is also a percentage that is taken off the relocations. In the recent closure of Linares, 139 of its 223 employees agreed to change centers. Some, like Inmaculada Vázquez, could not take the position offered to her in Granada because of her husband’s work and her mother’s health problems. When she was asked to choose the centers to which she would be willing to move, she only checked the Jaén box, the closest one, but that possibility was denied and she left the company with compensation of 20 days per year worked. Mother of two children, ages three and ten, Vázquez is now trying to orient herself in a job market very different from the one she remembered, walking loaded with printed resumes, and she has just opened an account on LinkedIn. “We will go a little tighter. I will collect unemployment, but between the mortgage, the car, the schools … the fixed expenses are about 1,900 euros per month, ”he explains. Its relocation does not seem easy being a neighbor of the city with the most unemployment in Spain. Linares has suffered in 2021 the double blow of the closure of Zara and El Corte Inglés, and has in his collective memory the open wound of the march a decade ago by Santana Motors.

Since El Corte Inglés closed its first shopping centers (those in Seville and San Fernando) in 2018, relocation has been the lesser evil devised by the company. The intention is that they keep the same hours and go to the nearest centers, but this is not always achieved. “When we talk about a closing we talk about the negotiation of the drama. No matter how good the solution is, in the best of cases they will have to make a personal effort ”, says Luis del Olmo, general secretary for Eastern Andalusia of Fasga, the majority union in the company.

Inmaculada Vázquez, who during her long career at El Corte Inglés has gone through sections as diverse as perfumery, bags and accessories, socks, shoe stores, sports, parapharmacy and sunglasses, and who helped out in supermarkets when the pandemic forced them to close the rest try to forget their new unemployed status by spending more time with their children, practicing triathlon, their favorite sport, and taking a course as a caretaker. “People tell me to take a while, but I’ve been working since I was 14, I need to feel useful,” he insists.

Despite the frustration of the farewell, she says she is grateful for those years, serving the people of the nearby towns, or traveling to Madrid every time she changed specialization to receive training. His last day at work, February 19, was not easy. While the colleagues accepted in Jaén were organizing to share the places in the cars to go together from Linares, she saw the establishment to which she has dedicated her entire working life emptied, still open, but already with her death sentence signed. “The clients cried with us. They have known us for years, and we have treated them like family ”.

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