Former Jamie’s Italian workers have described their sudden redundancy as “disgraceful”, adding that they feel they have been “disregarded and just thrown on the scrap heap without any notice”.
In emotional testimony collected by Unite Scotland, who is launching action to recuperate moneys it says are owed to former staff of the Jamie Oliver chain, ex-employees described loyal careers spanning much of a decade – with one noting: “I’ve promoted Jamie’s for the last nine years. I’ve promoted him, I’ve made him money, and I just don’t feel like the way he’s treated us is right.”
On 21 May it was announced that efforts to turn the Jamie’s Italian brand around following last year’s company voluntary arrangement (CVA) had been unsuccessful and the group – including the remaining Barbecoa site in One New Change in Westminster and Fifteen London – had fallen into administration.
Two days later, 20 of the 25 sites were on the market and 1,000 employees were looking for new positions. Just three sites – two Jamie’s Italians and a Jamie Oliver’s Diner – all in Gatwick Airport, remain open while a buyer is sought.
A spokesperson for KPMG, the administrator, said that special arrangements had been made to ensure staff were paid up to the point of redundancy.
Describing the day that 1,300 staff were let go, one Scottish employee said administrators had arrived before staff were told what was going on by their employers. She said: “There were administrators in Glasgow at 10.30am and we got sent an email at 11am. Everyone just got this email saying you can phone into a conference call at 12pm or you can phone into a conference call at 3pm. You’ve all been made redundant. There’s no funds to pay anyone anything.”
Another former staff member said confidence remained high right up until the end – and accused CEO Jon Knight of “lying to his face”.
He said: “Less than a month ago I sat across from the CEO, they said they’d got down to the last three and it was all positive and everything was looking really good – that we were in the best trading position we’ve been in for three years. Less than five weeks later I’m sitting here as one of 1,300 staff members that have been made redundant. That’s the CEO of the company lying to my face. That shows no integrity at all”
Another added: “Our core value that they drill into us all the time is family, but you wouldn’t treat your family like this. It was all about the brand and they were just killing it by the end.”
Bryan Simpson, Unite Scotland hospitality coordinator, said the stories behind the chain marked “a serious problem in the hospitality industry for workers”.
He added: “These workers devoted themselves to making this business a success,, absorbing all the cost-cutting and pressures from above, but when it came down to it were treated appallingly by Jamie’s.
“In speaking up, Unite’s members are shining a light on an increasingly unstable sector where it is the workers on the restaurant floor pay the heaviest price for boardroom mistakes.
“Not only do we intend to reclaim what this group of workers is owed, but we will fight for the law to be changed so that no worker should have to face these injustices in the future. The existing law is entirely inadequate when it comes to protecting workers’ wages when a business goes to the wall.”
A KPMG spokesperson said: “Special arrangements were made with Jamie Oliver Holdings to ensure all redundant staff were paid for arrears of pay up to the point of redundancy.”