UK jobs: grim toll of coronavirus pandemic laid bare

18 August 2020, 20:15

Recruiters are facing the prospect of hundreds of thousands of laid-off staff
Recruiters are facing the prospect of hundreds of thousands of laid-off staff. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The grim impact of the coronavirus pandemic has seen Marks & Spencer become the latest company to fall victim to thousands of job cuts.

The announcement by Marks & Spencer on Monday that it will cut up to 7,000 jobs is likely to put recruiters, who are already facing high levels of laid-off staff due to the Covid-19 outbreak, under greater strain.

It becomes the latest major British employer to be impacted by the pandemic, which has seen roughly 730,000 people taken off payrolls since lockdown began in March, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Last week, more than 4,300 job cuts were announced by UK businesses with Debenhams one of the hardest hit, making up more than half of those positions.

Elsewhere on Monday, aircraft manufacturer Bombardier confirmed plans to axe a further 95 jobs at its Belfast operation after its decision in June to let go of 600 staff.

Following the increase in potential redundancies this week, we take a look at some of the biggest headlines over the past few months.

March

Since the start of lockdown on 23 March, hundreds of major British companies have made the difficult decision to let some of their workforces go, despite the government's furlough scheme.

In the eight remaining days of March following the Prime Minister's historic lockdown speech, two companies announced thousands of jobs were at risk, while a third firm announced job losses.

Mexican restaurant chain Chiquito said on the 27th it would permanently close the majority of its stores, affecting 1,500 people, while the collapse of rent-to-buy outfit BrightHouse on the 30th put 2,400 jobs at risk.

Just a day later, retailer Laura Ashley announced plans to cut 268 of its staff.

April

The following month, the scale of the impact the pandemic would have on the jobs market became even more clear as thousands more positions were put at risk.

Retailer Debenhams and furnishing company Cath Kidston announced 422 and 900 job losses respectively on the 17th and 21st.

While at the end of the month, high street fashion chains Oasis and Warehouse confirmed they would be ceasing all operations, leading to 1,800 job cuts. However, in June the pair were both bought out by online fashion retailer Boohoo for £5.25 million.

But, the biggest hit was at airliner British Airways, which said it would cut 12,000 jobs from its 42,000-strong workforce.

This announcement sparked the beginning of a row between the employer and its staff that would last throughout the pandemic and is continuing to this day.

May

May proved to be an incredibly difficult month for the travel industry, with airliners, travel agents and airports suffering heavily during strict lockdown measures.

In the first week, Ryanair staff faced 3,000 cuts worldwide while Virgin Atlantic announced 3,150 job cuts in the UK. This was followed by 1,100 worldwide job losses at P&O Ferries, 450 at Carnival UK (which owns P&O Cruises and Cunard) and 8,000 worldwide at Tui.

At the end of the month, EasyJet confirmed 4,500 cuts worldwide and Belfast International Airport said it would be letting go of 45 staff members.

Meanwhile, the iconic British car firm Rolls Royce - which is also an engineering company - announced plans to axe 9,000 of its staff with the bulk of those being in positions at its site in Derby.

Other significant losses included Ovo Energy (2,600 job losses), Italian restaurant chain Carluccio's (1,000), motor racing firm McLaren (1,200) and shoe manufacturer Clarks (900).

June

The start of summer saw the pandemic tighten its grip on the UK job market with dozens of firms across numerous industries feeling the pinch from significantly reduced incomes.

The first week saw car firms Bentley and Aston Martin impacted, announcing 1,000 and 500 job losses respectively, while the second week saw oil firm BP confirm 10,000 cuts worldwide, energy and services company Centrica axe 5,000 domestically, while Heathrow Airport said at least 500 people would be let go and the aforementioned 600 job losses at Bombardier.

For the rest of the month, there were 2,500 jobs put at risk at builders merchants Travis Perkins, 1,100 at car firm Jaguar Land Rover, 35,000 lost worldwide at bank HSBC and 2,000 announced at Royal Mail.

The aviation industry took another big hit, with Aer Lingus (500), Swissport (4,556), Jet2 (102) and Airbus (1,700) all making cuts.

July

Despite restrictions across the UK being lifted by July, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic did not let up for many businesses.

The first day alone saw Virgin Money hit with up to 300 job losses, department store Harrods facing 700, Arcadia - which owns TopShop - looking at 500 cuts and SSP - the owner of snack food chain Upper Crust - with 5,000 staff at risk.

The following day, the owner of restaurants Bella Italia and Café Rouge - Casual Dining Group - announced 1,909 job losses, while Pret a Manger saw 1,000 positions put at risk just days later, followed by 550 at Reach - the owner of the Daily Mirror and Daily Express newspapers.

July then saw a number of big names on the high street hit with further potential reductions.

These included 1,600 at Burger King, 1,300 at John Lewis, 4,000 at Boots, 950 at Marks & Spencer, 600 at Dyson (plus a further 300 worldwide), 450 at Selfridges and 651 at burger chain Byron.

August

Finally, August has already seen tens of thousands of jobs put at risk at yet more big name companies in the UK.

In the first week of the month, Hays Travel announced up to 878 jobs were facing cuts, Pizza Express 1,100, WH Smith 1,500, Arsenal Football Club 55, Wetherspoons between 110 and 130, Travelex 1,300 and the Evening Standard newspaper 115.

Since then, Debenhams said 2,500 people could lose their jobs, banking firm NatWest announced 550 cuts and River Island confirmed 350 positions are at risk.

Today's announcements by Marks & Spencer and Bombardier round off what has been a dramatic and devastating few months for the UK job market over the past six months.

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