In a video sent to staff this week, Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin said his company would be making use of the new government wage subsidy scheme but warned staff they would likely face delays in being paid.
“The government promised to pay about 80% of wages,” Martin said in the video, which was reviewed by Yahoo Finance UK. “There’ll probably be some delays to paying it for which I also apologise but I feel sure they’re going to come through on their promise.”
In the meantime, Martin said Wetherspoon’s 40,000 staff could consider looking for work at a supermarket.
“We’ve had lots of calls from supermarkets,” he said. “Tesco alone want 20,000 people to join them. That’s half the number of people who work in our pubs.
“If I’m being honest, I say you can get the furlough payments and stay at home. If you’re offered a job at a supermarket, many of you will want to do that. If you think it’s a good idea — do it. I can completely understand it.
“If you’ve worked for us before, I promise you we’ll give you first preference if you want to come back. We will obviously completely understand that you don’t want to wait around to re-open.”
The comments provoked criticism from unions and some Wetherspoon staff. The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and SpoonStrike, a group set up to organise collective staff action at JD Wetherspoon, said the pub group had “no regard for the financial and mental wellbeing of their employees.”
“Whilst other companies such as Costa have promised their staff 8 weeks fully paid, Wetherspoons have left over 40,000 people without their next pay date, with no means of paying for rent, bills or food, and no warning,” the groups said in a statement posted on Twitter.
BFAWU and SpoonStrike also claimed JD Wetherspoon had told staff they would only be paid for hours worked up until Sunday 22 March and would also not receive bonuses that had already been awarded.
“This country will not forget the way in which employers have treated their staff during this crisis,” said Ian Hodson, president of the BFAWU. “Now is the time for all workers to come together and oppose greedy inaction by millionaire bosses.”
Eddie Gershon, a spokesperson for JD Wetherspoon, said: “There has been a complete misinterpretation of what Wetherspoon said”.
The company “made clear that all employees would get paid this Friday for all work carried out until the pubs shut,” Gershon said.
“As we understand it, tens of thousands of hospitality workers and others have already lost their jobs, but Wetherspoon is retaining all its employees, using the government scheme for the purpose for which it is intended.
“Wetherspoon believes that the actions it has taken are responsible and sensible in the difficult circumstances.”
Martin said in the video sent to staff there was “no money coming in through the tills, which is not something we ever planned for as you can appreciate.”
“Our main aim is to re-open,” he said in the video. “It’s very important to the country that we reopen. It might be weeks, it might be months.”
Last week, the outspoken pub boss said it was a “tactical error” for the UK government to tell the public to avoid pubs and restaurants and said: “If pubs remain open on a sensible basis, then that’s a plus.” Martin refused to rule out job cuts at the time.
The UK government this week ordered all non-essential shops shut and said the public should stay at home in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.