Top News Stories ~ 22nd – 28th March 2021

1. ASDA WORKERS WIN APPEAL

It has been ruled by the Supreme Court that the work of Asda shop-floor staff is ‘comparable’ to that of their warehouse staff, which could lead to a £500 million compensation claim. This follows 44,000 shop workers joining the legal action since 2016 where it was argued that the shop floor workers, who are mostly women, are paid less than the warehouse staff, who are mostly men, and who are paid up to £3 per hour more. The question was whether this pay difference constituted sexual discrimination.

Asda argued that the work of their shop floor staff is ‘not comparable’ to warehouse workers, and the pay difference is not due to gender. This argument was dismissed by the Supreme Court who backed the employment law tribunal decision in 2016 and deemed the work to be comparable, which has paved the way for further legal action to be taken. In turn, Asda will now argue that the work is not of ‘equal value’.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

The outcome of this case, which is the biggest-ever equal pay claim in the UK private sector, will have repercussions for roughly 8,000 workers at other supermarkets including Morrisons, Tesco, Co-op and Sainsbury’s, who are also engaged in equal pay disputes with their employers.

The legal firm Leigh Day, which is representing the Asda shop workers, has said that if the five supermarkets lose the cases brought by the workers, they could be facing backdated pay claims totalling £8bn.

This could also have significant consequences for other retailers who pay their shop floor workers and warehouse workers different amounts.

Whether these retailers will be able to prove that the work of warehouse staff is worth extra pay of up to £3 per hour is the major question.

Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

2. Deliveroo IPO Concerns

Deliveroo is set to enter the stock market and some of the UK’s biggest investors have said that they will avoid Deliveroo due to their poor treatment of workers. Deliveroo have dropped their IPO valuation by nearly £1 billion – from £8.8 billion to £7.9 billion.

Legal & General are amongst the investors who have said they are ‘unlikely’ to participate and would not be buying shares when Deliveroo lists on the London Stock Exchange. Deliveroo’s labour practices were an ‘important factor’ informing their decision. A recent study showed a third of delivery riders earned less than minimum wage of £8.72 per hour, while some earned as little as £2 per hour.

Despite the concern amongst investors such as M&G, Aviva Investors, BMO Global and more, Deliveroo is going ahead with the IPO. Deliveroo will have set its share price between £3.90 and £4.60 and are expected to make a lot of money. Founder Will Shu could gain £550 million when he sells some of his 6.2% stake, and 16% shareholder Amazon could make up to £107 million if they sell their 23 million shares, lowering their shareholding to 11.5%.

Riders in Australia, France and Italy will hold public protests, and are pledging not to log on to the app on Friday. In the UK some riders are planning to strike on 28 March while the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is organising protests across the UK on 7 April, the day the company debuts on London’s stock market.

Documents released before the Deliveroo IPO revealed that the firm had set aside more than £112m to cover potential legal costs relating to the employment status of its delivery riders.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

Deliveroo classes its 100,000 riders as ‘self-employed’ and are therefore not entitled to the benefits an employee or worker would receive, such as holidays, national living wage and pensions.

The Supreme Court decision surrounding the Uber ruling last month could significantly affect Deliveroo’s position going forward. The Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers were indeed to be classed as workers and therefore entitled to the benefits such as minimum wage, national living wage, holidays and pensions. The decision from this case suggests that other firms, such as Deliveroo, are going to have to follow suit in recognising their riders as workers.

To read more about the Uber court ruling I discussed in a recent blog post, see here.

Photo: Uber

3. CINEWORLD REPORT $3 BILLION LOSS

Cineworld, the second largest cinema chain in the world, has reported a loss of over $3 billion (£2.2 billion) for 2020 after lockdown measures forced the company to close for the majority of last year. The firm posted revenue of $852 million which is down roughly 80%. To compare, the chain turned over $4.3 billion in 2019.

Cineworld secured $750 million in funding last November and have announced $213 million in new funding via a convertible bond. They hope this will help it to sustain itself long term.

Cineworld hopes to reopen the majority of its site in the UK from May. The company have announced a deal with Warner Bros to show films in theatres before they are streamed which means films will have a period of exclusivity in cinemas before being made more widely available. “This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100-year relationship with Warner Bros,” said Cineworld chief executive Mooky Greidinger.

Traditionally cinemas have had exclusive rights to show new films for 90 days before they go on wider release but the closure of cinemas and the growth of demand for streamed content has hit this model.

Shares fell by more than 9% in early trading.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

This comes as no surprise as the effects of the pandemic sweep across businesses. Greidinger said of the annual results: “For all of us across the world, this has been an incredibly challenging year. COVID-19 has created a huge amount of stress and uncertainty, both in business and in our personal lives”.

Although the Warner Bros deal marked a positive attempt to re-establish a new middle ground with studios, Disney has subsequently announced that major films including Marvel’s Black Widow and Cruella will debut on Disney+ at the same time as in cinemas. This raises concerns as to how effective this new deal with Cineworld will be in the long term with an increase in demand for online streaming services.

Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

4. JESSOPS TO APPOINT ADMINISTRATORS

Jessops, a high street camera retailer, has issued a notice to appoint administrators which will protect it from creditor claims for 10 days. It is considering undertaking a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to strike a deal with its creditors.

This puts 17 stores and 120 jobs at risk. The company last appointed administrators in 2019 and shrunk its stores from 46 branches to just 17.

Peter Jones, Dragons’ Den businessman, purchased Jessops in 2013 after it collapsed under £81 million of debt.

A spokesperson for PJ Investment Group said it had worked hard to support Jessops, which had returned to profit in recent years, following a restructuring and multimillion-pound investment. However, the retail business was changing fast “and this process has been accelerated by the impact of the pandemic”.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

This highlights the effect that the pandemic is having on high street shops within the UK. As Jessops’ products can be easily acquired online, there is less of a demand for the physical stores. We have seen many traditional high street stores closing and moving all their operations online, such as Debenham’s and Topshop after being bought by online fashion retailers ASOS and Boohoo, and this is expected to continue.

Photo: Getty Images

5. TESLA TO ACCEPT BITCOIN AS PAYMENT

Tesla will now accept Bitcoin as payment to buy Tesla cars. Elon Musk announced this development in a tweet which subsequently saw Bitcoin rise by 5%.

Tesla have bought a huge £1.1 billion worth of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin that is paid to Tesla will be retained as Bitcoin, and not vetted to fiat currency. This differs from the approach of other large companies that have accepted cryptocurrency as payment. These businesses typically convert the digital currency into dollars after the transaction to avoid much of the price volatility that’s common in crypto.

Depending on market value, this could see customers paying a lot more (or a lot less) for a Tesla using the crypto-currency.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

Some crypto experts believe this is an unstable choice for Tesla and could deter other companies from following suit. Some of the reasons includes: Hourly price fluctuations make it extremely volatile, customers are usually charged a network fee to use or withdraw the currency making it unsustainable as a form of payment, and digital wallet regulation remains a ‘grey area’.

Photo: Reuters

6. MONDALEZ TO BUY PROTEIN BAR BRAND GRENADE

Cadbury-owner Mondalez will buy protein bar brand Grenade for £200 million, as it aims to broaden its offering with a focus on nutritious eating.

Mondalez also owns Oreo, Ritz crackers and Toblerone. It wishes to acquire more nutritious snack brands to offer low sugar options as they are becoming ‘mainstream’. They bought Hu, the maker of vegan and organic chocolate bars in January.

Grenade produces a range of products that are high in protein and low in sugar. It was founded in 2010 by Alan and Juliet Barratt who will retain their minority equity interest in the business and will continue to run it under the new ownership of Mondalez.

This deal will be the first acquisition in the UK by Mondalez since it bought Cadbury in 2010.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

This deal will see Mondalez expanding their product range and choice toward the consumers who go for the high in protein and low in sugar options. Adding more brands who offer ‘better-for-you’ snacks and widening customer base is paramount.

Photograph: Grenade

7. AMAZON DRIVERS TO SIGN CONSENT FORMS

Amazon is requiring its delivery drivers to sign ‘biometric’ consent forms to collect and store drivers’ data such as their location and movement. Amazon will also receive live detailed information on the movements of the vehicles such as speed, breaking and mileage. Amazon will take a photo of drivers automatically which will connect them to their account when they enter the vehicle.

Concerns have been raised about the increased level of personal data being collected. Amazon says that process allow for improved driver and pedestrian safety, and the data that is collected is purely to ensure this safety.

The new technology was piloted last year and the results produced remarkable driver and community safety improvements, such as accidents decreasing by 48%, driving without a seat belt decreased by 60%, stop sign violations decreased by 20% and distracted driving decreased by 45%.

If drivers do not consent to this, they risk losing their jobs.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

This is a positive step that Amazon are taking in battling concerns surrounding safety and dangerous driving by delivery drivers.

However, the question as to whether drivers should be fired if they do not consent to this data being obtained remains an issue. This could prevent or deter people from applying to work as a delivery driver with Amazon.

Photograph: Getty Images

Thanks for reading! If you found this helpful, please do let me know by leaving a comment or reaching out to me on social media.

If you’re wondering how you can stay commercially aware, check out my blog post ‘How to Be Commercially Aware’. You can also check out my previous Weekly News Roundups here.

*Disclaimer – All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. All information provided aims to educate and has been cross-checked for accuracy, but this site accepts no responsibility for any discrepancies.

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A future trainee solicitor encouraging and supporting social mobility, and showing you anything is possible.

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