Waterstones ‘not profitable enough’ to pay Real Living Wage

The boss of Waterstones has said the book retailer is not yet profitable enough to increase pay for shop workers, after staff launched a campaign to be paid the Real Living Wage.

Managing director James Daunt told the Press Association that the business, which is owned by investment giant Elliott, is “frankly not profitable enough” to raise wages in line with the benchmark.

“Personally I find The Living Wage Foundation’s work to be entirely laudable,” he said. “But when you’re running a company it’s more complicated.”

Mr Daunt said he would like to raise hourly pay but had to balance this against the company’s financial stability.

He added that some staff are paid higher than the living wage to reflect experience and long service.

“The people we are particularly interested in are people choosing bookselling as a career,” he said.

However he said pay would continue to be reviewed as the company’s performance improved.

His comments were made in response to a petition on workplace campaign platform Organise, which calls for all booksellers working at the chain to be paid a minimum of £9 per hour, or £10.55 in the Greater London area.

The petition was launched one month ago, but gained significant attention on Monday after being widely shared on social media.

A group of published authors, led by writer Kerry Hudson, have also lent their support to the campaign and are to write an open letter to the company.

Staff at Waterstones who organised the campaign said: “James Daunt has stressed on more than one occasion that the survival and success of brick and mortar bookstores relies on the skill of booksellers.

“The current rate of pay for Waterstones booksellers across the UK is below the rate determined by the Living Wage Foundation, and does not reflect the energy, erudition and skill a bookseller brings to the role.”

US fund Elliott bought a controlling stake in Waterstones in April last year for an undisclosed sum.

In the chain’s most recently filed accounts, pre-tax profits were broadly flat at £19.98 million for the 52 weeks ending April 28 2018.

It marks a third successive year of profits for the business, which had struggled to break even following the financial crisis.

Mr Daunt joined Waterstones in 2011 and initiated a turnaround plan which involved making 200 store managers redundant in 2013.

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