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John Lewis staff braced for bonus pain as profits come under pressure

Press Association
01 March 2019

John Lewis staff are expected to see their annual bonus slashed next week when the department store chain unveils a sharp drop in full year profits.

The partnership, which includes upmarket supermarket Waitrose, warned in January that it might have to axe the renowned payout for the first time since 1953 as it battles challenging trading conditions.

Even if the bonus is reduced rather than axed on Thursday, it will represent the sixth year in a row that the firm’s 83,000 workers have had to stomach a cut.

Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said: “They could still afford to pay a 3% bonus – which would cost circa £45m – but they have softened the staff up for nothing.”

Outgoing chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said in January that the board will need to consider carefully whether “payment of a bonus is prudent in the light of business and economic prospects”.

Not only is the partnership coming under intense pressure as consumer confidence takes a knock from Brexit worries and higher costs, Waitrose will also next year lose its near-two decade long contract with Ocado. It comes as the online grocer instead gets into bed with Marks & Spencer.

“We are in a very unusual economic and political circumstances. It all comes down to a judgment on what is best for the partnership.

No one is getting rid of the bonus, bonuses go up and down. It’s affordable but the board needs to decide if it’s prudent,” Sir Charlie said at the time.

The bonus announcement will come alongside what is set to be poor set of full year financial figures. Numbers crunched by Bubb show that the partnership could be set to suffer a 40% plunge in annual pre-tax profits to £172m. When accounting for exceptional items, that figure could be dragged lower still.

Bubb is pencilling in a 40% fall in operating profits at John Lewis to around £140m. Waitrose is tipped to be a bright spot, with operating profits set to grow from £172m to just under £200m.

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