[UK] Waterstones cannot afford Real Living Wage

The managing director of Waterstones has said the business is “frankly not profitable enough” to pay the Real Living Wage, Evening Express reports.

James Daunt’s comments follow a campaign by staff of the book retailer to increase their wages to the Real Living Wage. Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Daunt reportedly said, “Personally I find The Living Wage Foundation’s work to be entirely laudable. But when you’re running a company it’s more complicated.”

Mr Daunt made 200 Waterstones store managers redundant in 2013 as part of a turnaround plan for the business, which he joined in 2011.

The MD told the Press Association he would like to raise hourly pay but had to balance this against the company’s financial stability. He said some staff are paid higher than the living wage to reflect experience and long service.

“The people we are particularly interested in are people choosing bookselling as a career,” he continued. However, pay would continue to be reviewed as the company’s performance improved.

Mr Daunt’s comments came after a petition on workplace campaign platform Organise - calling for all booksellers at the chain to receive a minimum of £9 per hour (or £10.55 in the Greater London area) - was spread across social media.

Campaign organisers said, “James Daunt has stressed on more than one occasion that the survival and success of brick and mortar bookstores relies on the skill of booksellers. The current rate of pay for Waterstones booksellers across the UK is below the rate determined by the Living Wage Foundation, and does not reflect the energy, erudition and skill a bookseller brings to the role.”

Last year US fund Elliott bought a controlling stake in Waterstones. In the book seller’s most recent accounts, pre-tax profits were £19.98million for the 52 weeks ending April 28 2018. This was the third profitable year in a row for Waterstones, after struggling to break even after the financial crisis.