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JD Wetherspoon backtracks and agrees to pay staff

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Graffiti on a JD Wetherspoon pub in Crystal Palace, south London. (PA)

JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) has caved to public pressure and said it will continue to pay staff throughout the coronavirus shutdown.

The pub group said in a statement on Wednesday 25 March it would introduce a new scheme that would see staff paid 80% of their normal wages by the company. JD Wetherspoon will then apply for up to £2,500 ($2,969) per employee per month back from the government under its new coronavirus job retention scheme.

“As we have already confirmed, Wetherspoon will pay all our 43,000 staff this Friday for the hours worked last week,” founder and chairman Tim Martin said in a statement sent to media.

“The first payment under the new scheme will be made on Friday 3 April, subject to government approval, and weekly thereafter.”

Martin faced a huge backlash on Tuesday after sending a video to staff telling them they would not be paid until Wetherspoon received money from the government. Martin also suggested staff should look for work at supermarkets like Tesco.

Read more: Sports Direct and JD Wetherspoon bosses questioned over staff treatment

The comments provoked criticism from unions, staff, and MPs, who said the comments left Wetherspoon’s 43,000 staff facing an uncertain future. At least one Wetherspoon’s pub was also vandalised this week in response.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry group UK Hospitality, said: “All companies in hospitality and leisure are caught in an impossible position whereby they need to make critical decisions about funding pay to colleagues, while enduring a period of zero income and without the certainty of when the promised government help will arrive. 

“In the case of our member companies, as graphically illustrated by Wetherspoon, the top priority has been how can we get money into businesses to pay workers, when we collectively have no income and squeezed liquidity.”

Nicholls called for “urgent clarification on the detail” of the government’s wage subsidy scheme.

Under Wetherspoon’s new pay proposals, which must be approved by the Treasury, staff would be free to pursue voluntary work while receiving furlough payments or to increase their hours at other jobs, although this may affect levels of pay from the furlough scheme.