Thousands of staff from brands such as Smiggle, Peter Alexander, Portmans and Just Jeans are among the latest to lose their jobs in this week’s virus-driven retail carnage.
Billionaire retail mogul Solomon Lew stood down 9000 staff worldwide on Thursday, and declared the brands’ parent company, Premier Investments, will not pay rent during the coronavirus-driven shutdown.
Premier said all of its shops would close for a month and all Australian employees will be stood down without pay.
The 9000 staff is a global figure – it’s not clear how many are Australian jobs.
“This is the hardest decision ever made by Premier – our team are our family and we want to do everything we can to keep them employed, but we believe that it is necessary and the right decision for them, their families, our customers, and the country,” Premier chief executive Mark McInnes said.
Additionally, Premier intends not to pay rent globally for as long as the shutdown lasts.
It cited “extraordinary circumstances”, and the fact that 70 per cent of its Australian and New Zealand shops were already in holdover or had leases expiring in 2020.
Mr Lew has long railed against the level of rent charged by landlords and just last week threatened to close more shops if they refused to play ball during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Premier’s announcement follows a slew of other retailers rapidly shutting their doors as people stay away from the shops amid tightening government quarantine restrictions.
Also on Thursday, jewellery chain Lovisa (400 shops worldwide) and Athlete’s Foot owner Accent Group joined Mosaic Brands (1400 shops, 6800 staff) and Michael Hill Jewellers (300 shops, 1600 workers) in temporarily shutting down Australian operations.
Accent, which also owns the Platypus and Hype shoe chains, will close more than 500 shops from Friday and stand down a reported 5000 staff.
JB Hi-Fi Australia remains open but the company has closed its 14 New Zealand stores. Super Retail Group also continues to trade but has cancelled its interim payout to shareholders.
It comes as thousands of workers face being laid off in the travel and retail sector as the global economy grinds down in the face of the coronavirus.
Virgin Australia said on Thursday that more than 1000 of 8000 workers asked to take leave in the face of the pandemic will probably be made redundant.
“Of the 8000 that we asked to stand down yesterday, there is probably going to be more than a 1000 of those (who) we do make redundant,” Virgin Australia managing director Paul Scurrah told the ABC on Thursday.
“This is the worst airline crisis the world has ever seen.”
Rival Qantas had already said it would stand down two-thirds of its 30,000 staff.
It’s with a heavy heart that we’re temporarily suspending most of our domestic flights from midnight 27 Mar-14 Jun due to new travel restrictions. We’re in this together and we can’t wait to see you in the skies again soon. To change your flight, visit: https://t.co/koj4rID1PJ pic.twitter.com/JvLA1MKqWf
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) March 24, 2020
Virgin Australia is also looking to redeploy staff to other companies – including major supermarkets and big banks – that need staff during the pandemic
Meanwhile, Flight Centre has announced more than 3800 of its Australian travel agency staff will be stood down temporarily.
The company is slashing about 6000 support and sales role across the globe, either temporarily or permanently.
Thousands of workers in hospitality have already been shown the door as businesses close down to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Business groups and unions want the federal government to copy Britain and introduce a wage subsidy, which guarantees 80 per cent of a company’s wage bill.
Economists expect the unemployment rate to surge in the coming months – possibly as high as 11 per cent – as the economy suffers its first recession in nearly 30 years.
That would be more than double the 5.1 per cent rate recorded in February and the highest rate since 1993, when the economy was still suffering from the last recession.