Ocado tell 200 staff they must move 250 miles to keep jobs

Ocado tell 200 tearful call centre staff who worked throughout lockdown they must move 250 miles to keep their jobs

  • Staff at the Hertfordshire call centre were asked to relocate to Sunderland
  • The announcement sparked a mass walkout at their Hatfield call centre
  • Ocado insists the ‘headcount’ will remain the same and staff will be offered alternative roles, but staff are concerned these will be lower paid positions
  • Have you been affected? Email [email protected] 

Up to 200 jobs are at risk in Ocado’s flagship call centre after the online supermarket announced staff will be expected to move to a new centre 250 miles away. 

Staff at their Hatfield Centre in Hertfordshire are being asked to relocate to Sunderland in Tyne and Wear.

Call centre workers claim they will either be forced to accept alternative lower paid logistics roles with Ocado, or face redundancy.   

Ocado insisted there ‘may be redundancies’ but their aim ‘is to keep as many people in our business as possible.’

The news comes in the wake of Ocado signing a £750 million deal with M&S, switching from their longstanding relationship with Waitrose. 

Ocado’s Hatfield call centre in Hertfordshire (pictured) where staff were asked to relocate to Sunderland 250 miles away on Monday, leaving staff in tears and sparking a  mass walkout

The online supermarket wants to move their call centre operations to their Tyne and Wear centre (pictured above) 

The company blindsighted staff with the announcement in a meeting at 2.40pm on Monday, leaving some staff in tears and sparking a mass walkout. 

Many of the staff affected worked for the online supermarket throughout the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown earlier this year. 

One call centre staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘No one knew what was going on. We actually believed we would get a thank you for working during the pandemic. But that wasn’t the case.

‘There were people crying. There are people who have just started families, moved out of their parents, stuff like that, trying to get back to normal life, and then they go and drop this.  

Ocado say all those affected will be offered alternative logistics roles, but staff believe these will be lower paid ‘picking and packing’ jobs (pictured above, stock image), or delivery roles

The Ocado warehouse in Hatfield, which is over one million square feet, has been extremely busy as shoppers turn to online shopping as coronavirus restrictions tighten

‘We knew that the Sunderland contact centre was opening and we were always assured that our jobs would be safe. 

‘On the floor there was a feeling we would be told that there would be redundancies or job losses after Christmas, an extremely busy time, due to this new contact centre. 

‘But for them to do it mid pandemic, while the UK are scared there’s going to be a second wave and panic buying is going up, it was just dropped as a bombshell.’  

‘There was a mass walkout and everyone left. Even managers.’

Calls from customers were left unanswered for up to an hour, while more than 200 live chats were reportedly waiting for responses on the centre’s live chat system.

Queries on social media were also left unanswered for up to 15 hours, where the usual target response time expected is said to be within 10 minutes.  

Hatfield has been the flagship Ocado Group call centre for 20 years. 

Staff were shocked that Ocado made the anouncement at such a busy time for the online supermarket, as more people turn to online shopping as coronavirus restrictions tighten and fears of panic buying spread.

The announcement comes in the wake of a £750 million deal between Ocado and M&S, which launched on September 1 and sparked an online shopping frenzy

It also follows the launch of the M&S Ocado partnership which launched on September 1, with demand outstripping even the stockpiling frenzy in March.  

Ocado’s £750m tie-up with Marks & Spencer

M&S signed a £750 million deal in 2019 to own half of Ocado’s retail business and launched its products on the delivery website in September 2020. 

Ocado revealed that the switch from Waitrose to M&S led to a surge in its shares, as well as a significant rise in sales.

The online grocer had its busiest-ever day for orders when the M&S partnership launched on September 1, with demand outstripping even the stockpiling frenzy in March.

Average shopper baskets grew by about five items since the switch and shares in Ocado also hit a record high amid the new partnership.

The move marked the end of a 20-year partnership with Waitrose. 

‘It was quite frustrating,’ added the Ocado worker. 

‘We came into work during the pandemic and helped them make money. 

‘They have profited from this pandemic, and all the internal emails were all “Ocado is doing great, we’ve made this much, we’ve got all this stock, and a new venture with Marks & Spencers,” and then ‘”oh, we’re going to make you redundant”. 

‘They’ve made all this money but are still going to cut costs by getting rid of 200 people.’

Ocado inisited that there would be no overall change in their staff headcount and that everyone affected will be offered other roles at Ocado. 

Call centre staff believe these are likely to be ‘picking and packing’ or delivery driving jobs.

They say they are concerned these positions are lower paid than their current call centre positions. 

 ‘What the other roles would be wasn’t announced to us on Monday, but it’s likely to be picking and packing and driving jobs, which are a lot less money,’ the cell celntre worker added.

‘It’s a huge reduction in wage. In Sunderland the wage is only £19,200 instead of almost £24,000 that we’re on.

‘I know a few people who have accepted Sunderland roles and they have been dropped. 

‘I think then they can get away with when they want to employ more people in Sunderland to keep the headcount the same.’

A spokesperson for Ocado said: ‘Over the last few months, we have been reviewing our Contact Centre operations to ensure we continue to offer the best customer service.

‘As part of this review, it has been determined that the Contact Centre operations would be more effective if they were operated from a single location.

‘On this basis, 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.’

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