Saturday, June 16, 2007


Just had a visit from a very angry ex-colleague from my Waterstone's days. Head office has issued a new contract to everyone with some fairly stringent/insulting terms. No over-time and booksellers will be obliged to work bank holidays and christmas day at normal rates. Pay-cuts across the board which mean that a bookseller with 10 years at the company will now be earning the same as someone with 10 minutes experience if they don't sign up. The intention is to keep a very thin layer of experienced company people and populate the shops with a high turnover of cheap staff - to all intents and purposes they're turning it into Smiths.

Everyone has to re-apply for their jobs. Those that refuse to sign the new contract will be left in a state of limbo and reduced to the status of a part-timer with no benefits or holiday.

There is quite a revolt at Gower st, Hatchards and Piccadilly but smaller branches seem to be submitting with barely a whimper. The status of Bookseller, never that high in the first place, is being reduced to the level of a till monkey. What annoys my ex-colleague even more is that Waterstone's sell themselves on the basis that they are passionate Booksellers and that there is experience and knowledge in store, clearly not a view shared in Brentford.

Personally, I couldn't give a toss, what Matthew and I do here is a million miles away from that outfit. If they want to turn into Smiths that's their business but as a favour to a fellow bookseller who is leaving Waterstone's after 12 years to set up his own shop (hooray!) he wants to tell as many people as possible just how appallingly they are treating their staff. Hopefully this will help.


  1. I for one am bloody glad not to be CEO at Waterstone's (or any other bookchain) ; especially at a time when many indies are doing just about everything except taking in washing to try and ensure their survival.

    I don't think that you have been totally fair about explaining the changes which Waterstone's wish to introduce ; it is very easy to be alarmist rather than rational in such desperate times.

  2. My ex-colleague is a very calm and rational person who wouldn't usually raise his voice to anyone.

    He was fuming mad and if he reckons it's as bad as that then I'll take his word for it.

    I don't know the last time you worked for someone else Clive but it can be a completely immiserating and degrading experience. It doesn't matter how badly the company is doing you don't treat your previously loyal staff with contempt.

  3. Dave DooganJune 16, 2007

    I heard that Waterstone's are so pissed off with the negative press they are getting that they threatened to sever all ties with one trade magazine if they ran a particular story recently.

    And they claim to oppose censorship when people complain about them stocking controversial books!

  4. Adam,

    There are not pay cuts across the board and everyone does not need to re-apply for their jobs.
    You should amend your post.

  5. I was only passing on what I'd been told. And if you read it a bit closer I said there were pay cuts if you didn't sign on. My ex-colleague has been told he has to re-apply that's all I know.

  6. AnonymousJune 16, 2007

    Sorry about the anonymous, I haven't signed the new contract yet as I work at one of the 3 stores you have mentioned! As I understand it, there are no pay rises (ever?) unless you sign the new contract and there will be no hope for promotion either. I do not need to reapply for my job though, though whether it is a job worth having I am starting to wonder. I have always been a happy bookseller until now.

  7. I can think of another bookshop where loyal staff had to work every bank holiday on normal pay ;-) But you know I love you anyway. And normal pay was pretty good as I recall.

  8. AnonymousJune 17, 2007

    I hope your friend reads his books better than he has the information about the contracts. S/he seems to have taken the general information and created his/her own sub plot that bears little relation to the original. I suppose s/he has time to get around to reading it in full but until then s/he may as well impart what s/he knows to people, who if memeory serves me correctly, said that the Picadilly branch was shuting down.

  9. AnonymousJune 18, 2007

    Having recently spoken to 3 members of staff, who don't know each other and are at different grades in different stores - if I was a shareholder, I'd be furious about some of the decisions and practices that are going on. Not just the formalised ones that can be examined and criticised and revised if required.
    Reminds me of a Cabinet War Room with shop staff as the little, plastic figures being pushed around with a big stick.

  10. AnonymousJune 18, 2007

    A lot of us are shareholders which is a sad state of affairs. Totally agree with the cabinet war room idea, except that I feel more like I am being trodden on.
    Can I make a point about the contracts. Where I work (no I'm not going to tell you where!) Until we saw the contracts we had not seen anything in writing. At our meeting about it we were read to. If this happened at every branch then I am sure this is why no one can quite agree with what exactly has gone on and what we have agreed or not agreed to.

  11. Lots of conflicting and confusing information from the comments. Goes to show that everyone's in the dark and a bit worried about their future and that the company is not behaving that well. Glad I don't work there anymore.

  12. The feeling's mutual.

  13. AnonymousJune 23, 2007

    For those here that are defending waterstone's DONT! The company is now determined to become the walmart of the UK book business.I have worked for them for many years now and it is true that unless you sign a new contract, you will not be entitled to any future pay review or even a cost of living increase. It is designed to slowly squeeze those of us who do not sign out in the long term. If you do sign then you will be expected to work all bank holidays for no additional pay and must take them as holiday if you want them off.Although in our branch you are effectively not allowed to book bank holidays off anyway! Don't be naive either, eventually those who have not signed will be dismissed.Just wait and see.Store managers and AM's will continue to be paid ridiculous sums of money whilst booksellers can look forward to continued low wages, which means you are basically living just above the poverty line in real terms.The company does not value experienced booksellers and is going down the Walmart route of stripping employees of rights and moving towards a part-time culture of 16 year olds.It's a nonsense to suggest that Waterstone's lead the way in choice with educated book loving purchasing decisions. Richard and Judy decide what we sell and that is the sickening truth.I am not an alarmist or irrational, I love books and understand the need to be commercial. However, the soul has been sucked out of the company and we are told what to sell and where to market books within store is dependent upon which publisher has paid the biggest bung, sorry, joint marketing contribution.We are now being told to push .com in store and in reward the store who gets the most online referrals gets a big box of cakes! Meanwhile, as we push this business towards .com we can look forward to less in store traffic and thus sales, putting our own jobs at risk. The fact the company spent years redirecting online trade to Amazon, must now be paid for by the employees, not the directors of the company.Still at least when we are made redundant or are fired for not signing totally unfair contracts, we can have our cake and eat it, courtesy of oh so generous head office. I won't be sticking around for this nonsense and nor will many of my colleagues. We will all be off to new jobs with indepedents who care about books and respect their staff and the book buying public.Rant over phew.

  14. I recommend joining a union, it's working for our store. now everything that happens is scrutinised bu people who know the law. let them make up any contract they want, i guarantee the union will tear it to shreds. oh waterstone's, so much wasting of so may knowlegable employees...