Madrid, Bilbao, Valencia... El Corte Inglés closes stores on the eve of negotiating the new agreement for large stores

Closures announced with a dropper, but continuously over the last few days. In less than a week, El Corte Inglés has confirmed that it is going to close establishments in cities such as Madrid, Bilbao, Valencia or Seville, with different characteristics and commercial focus, in a step justified by the need to reorder their offer.

One of the most significant closures is that of one of its two establishments on Calle Serrano in Madrid, one of the commercial arteries of the capital, which was focused on men's fashion and restaurants and where El Corte Inglés is for rent. , which expires in the coming months. It is a place, a former Marks & Spencer, where it had already changed steps seven years ago to focus its offer on branded menswear (high-priced brands, such as Dior Homme, Marc Jacobs Giorgio Armani or Tom Ford), and in which a substantial part of the clients were shopping tourists, an activity that ceased with the pandemic. After the closure, the staff will be transferred to the other store they have on Calle Serrano.

In this case, it leaves a rental, as is also the case with one of its establishments in Bilbao, at number 20 Gran Vía. But it will also close and sell premises: one that was no longer operating in Córdoba, which was a Simago; a sports store in Seville, one of its establishments on Calle Colón in Valencia and the cessation of operations of two other stores in Madrid, in two shopping centers, in La Vaguada and in Parquesur.

The department store company, for the moment, has not given details regarding the affected workforce - which it assures will relocate - or the cost that this reorganization may have, which explains the need to concentrate supply in larger establishments. A strategy that is not unique and is being carried out by other companies, such as Inditex, which also announced months ago the closure of smaller storesto focus on premises with more commercial space.

In the case of El Corte Inglés, the unions, at least for now, do not come to value this change of pace. Regarding the closures in Madrid, they refer to a joint statement signed by Fasga, Fetico, CCOO and UGT in which they indicate that the company has informed the works councils of the Parquesur and La Vaguada centers, that it will proceed to the reorganization of its commercial offer and that "it will reinforce the commercial offer in centers close to" those who close down. "The company will offer the affected staff relocation to other establishments of the organization taking into account their destination preferences, the proximity of the centers to their homes and their professional skills," he says.

"In the event that it is necessary, in the relocation process, the procedure for modifying working conditions in article 41 of the Workers' Statute will be used," he adds. This refers to the fact that "the management of the company may agree to substantial modifications of working conditions when there are proven economic, technical, organizational or production reasons" and those that are linked to "competitiveness, productivity or organization technique or work in the company".

"In the same way, if necessary", indicates the statement signed by the unions, El Corte Inglés "will proceed to apply the geographical mobility procedure of article 40 of the Workers' Statute individually, in those cases in which there is a transfer involving a change of residence. In this case, the legislation establishes that "upon notification of the transfer decision, the worker will have the right to choose between the transfer, receiving compensation for expenses, or the termination of his contract, receiving compensation of 20 days of salary per year of service. , prorating by months the time periods of less than one year and with a maximum of 12 monthly installments".

In this sense, sources from the workforce do indicate that there may be exits in the case of workers contemplated in these transfers, who would receive the cap of 12 monthly payments. "These closures do not cause us fear, because there is a maintenance of employment in 100% of cases. They are not traumatic closures," said the aforementioned sources.

put as a reference what happened at the beginning of 2021, with the department store in Linares (Jaen), opened in 2002. A town hit by unemployment, where it had more than 200 workers. "If you close in a province and the closest center is 200 kilometers away, it is difficult to relocate the workforce, but in the closures that have been made public there is the possibility of relocation. There are people who have been requesting transfers for a long time and there is also a part of the staff of these centers that can ask for the account", qualify the aforementioned sources.

It must be remembered that El Corte Inglés comes from a voluntary redundancy plan agreed with the unions at the beginning of 2021, when more than 3,000 people left the company, both from the store and from central services. In that case, compensation was agreed for 33 days per year worked, with a maximum of 24 monthly payments and a compensation premium for seniority brackets.

The group has not yet revealed its evolution at the end of the 2021 financial year. A year ago, it published its results in 2020, when its workforce exceeded 80,000 people. In this year marked by the pandemic, the group scored some red numbers of 2,945 million euros. Behind these losses, he explained, was a provision of 2,500 million to "cover impairment of fixed assets, inventories and tax credits." "Most of these provisions stem from an asset upgrade as a result of the transformation to a more digital business model," she argued.

A digital transformation that will also influence the negotiation of the next collective agreement for the department store sector. "The company plans to reach 30% of billing through online business. This implies that there are new functions, performances and tasks," indicate the aforementioned sources of the workforce in the face of the priorities in these negotiations, apart from a wage hike. "The current collective agreement is defined as transitional. It is only valid for two years, instead of four," they point out.

In March 2021, the employers' association of the Anged supermarkets, of which El Corte Inglés and other companies such as Carrefour or Ikea are a part, sealed with CCOO, Fetico and Fasga the sectoral agreement, in force until December 31 of this year, which includes a wage increase of 2% during the period. In the past year, the situation of El Corte Inglés has changed labor and financially. At the end of 2021, he sealed a new incentive model for its staff dedicated to commercial work; it also gave entry to Mutua Madrileña in the shareholding, which bought 8% of the distribution group's capital, from the group's treasury stock, for 555 million. In addition, it acquired 50.01% of the two insurers of El Corte Inglés for another 550 million euros.

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