The long wait for news about job cuts at Eason should be over by the end of this month following weeks of negotiation, it has been revealed. More than 145 full-time positions at the Irish chain are currently under threat.
Staff have been in limbo since the talks between Eason's management and union Siptu began seven months ago. They were initiated in early April after the bookseller announced its plans to restructure the business and to make €8m (£6.8m) of cost savings across the company. At the same time, Eason said it would pump €20m into the company over three years, creating a new brand strategy, investing in IT and category ranges and renovating stores.
The latest few rounds of discussions between the two parties have been held through the Labour Relations Commission in Ireland, which aims to prevent and resolve workplace disputes. The Bookseller has been told the final meeting is due to take place in the next two weeks, when a set of propositions will be finalised. They will include any effects on staff pay, working conditions and redundancies, with the union hoping to agree fewer than the rumoured 147 full-time equivalent job losses.
Karan O'Loughlin, Siptu sector organiser for wholesale and retail, who represents 1,000 of Eason's 1,200 employees, said: "We have said if there are to be any redundancies then they should be on a voluntary basis. There is a general understanding that the business needs to be restructured in terms of its cost base. In Ireland the retail sector is up against it at the moment, it has been hard to beat the recession: [and it is] not just books as all retailers are under pressure. Part of the rationale of these discussions is to do the best for our members while ensuring a future for the company because that is important to our members too."
O'Loughlin said she did not want to go into detail about the final proposals because she didn't know which ones "might be taken off the table". In terms of the redundancy numbers, she said: "Obviously we would like it to be fewer than 147."
One Eason employee, who declined to be named, said: "The biggest worry among staff is a reduction in wages —between increases in taxes direct and indirect, prices of fuel, electricity and many other goods, and with a harsh budget due in December, the last thing anyone can afford is a reduction in wages."
Another said the wait to find out the result of the talks had been tough. "Obviously we are concerned about losing our jobs if some non-voluntary redundancies are made; the job market is really harsh out there."
Before the restructure was announced, managing director of Eason, Conor Whelan, had received two votes of no confidence from staff represented by the Siptu union.
In Eason's last financial results, the Irish Times reported that in the 52 weeks to the end of January 2011, its sales fell by 5% like-for-like and overall turnover, including income from South Africa and joint ventures, fell by 2.8% last year to €297.6 million. The family-owned bookseller also reduced its losses from €10.1m (£8.9m) to €4.4m. Eason declined to comment until the talks had been finalised.