Cook Co-op: Unions seek urgent meetings over merger

Trade union officials are seeking urgent meetings with Thomas Cook and Co-operative Group bosses following today’s announcement that the pair’s retail businesses are to merge.

The unions fear substantial job losses as the Co-operative Travel and Thomas Cook head offices, back office, IT and other functions merge, and shops close.

Transport union TSSA represents staff at Thomas Cook and shopworkers’ union USDAW has negotiating rights at the Co-operative Group. TSSA senior regional organiser Rick Justham said: “We are seeking an urgent meeting with the company.”

Co-operative Group chief executive Peter Marks warned of redundancies in a letter to staff this morning, but said: “We are certain the vast majority of colleagues throughout our travel business will have their jobs protected.”

However, the companies have already identified the Thomas Cook head office in Peterborough as the joint-venture’s headquarters. The Co-operative Travel is run from a head office in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, where about 300 staff are employed, with a similar number in Manchester.

There is no indication how many shops will close, but the combined retail estate of 1,200 outlets compares with the 800 shops Thomas Cook has at present and a similar number at Tui Travel. Industry sources suggest as many as 400 shops may close.

The companies have set aside £13 million for redundancy payments, suggesting a substantial number of staff will be affected – including some on higher salaries.

The north and Midlands are likely to be hardest hit by closures, particularly when the Midlands Co-operative joins the venture, as these areas have the greatest overlap in shops.

Thomas Cook has 171 outlets across the north and 84 in the Midlands, and the Co-operative Travel 181 in the north and 56 in the Midlands.

The Going Places brand, which is strong in the northwest, will disappear and the shops be rebranded as the Co-operative Travel, suggesting a high rate of closure where a town has more than one brand at present.

The leases of 125 of the pair’s shops – including almost 100 Thomas Cook outlets – are due to expire in the next year, making these also vulnerable.

The merger will cause serious anxiety in the run up to Christmas. However, the numbers involved are likely to trigger a three-month consultation with staff, meaning the majority of redundancies may not go through until early next year.

Unions hope the merger will have a positive impact on pay and conditions at the joint company. Justham told Travel Weekly:

“Given the history of the Co-operative Group and its stance on ethical issues, we hope the merged company will address our concerns about low pay in the industry.”

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