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On Christmas Eve 2008, I found out I would be losing my job. There is no day of the year to find out something like that, but it seems that Christmas Eve is a particularly bad one. I remember it very clearly, even down to what I was wearing. I was packing to go home over Christmas and I got a text off my friend Susie, telling me that the shop we both worked in had been taken over by administrators. And just like that, I knew my job would be gone.

The truth is, it was actually eight months later that my job finally went, but it did go, in the same way a terminal illness sucks the life out of a human. Long, slow, arduous. I worked in Zavvi, previously Virgin Megastore, in Cardiff. I started out as a Saturday girl, and when I graduated university and still didn’t know what to do with my life, I went full time. I’m not looking at it with the rose-tinted spectacles of time, but I loved that place. I loved the fact I was surrounded by music all day. I loved that I worked with strange, beautiful people, who liked all the same stuff I did. If they ever read this, they may laugh, but that shop was the first place I ever felt like I belonged somewhere. I did a lot of finding out who I was while I was there. And let’s face it, as full time jobs go, mine was a complete doss. Maybe I was just lazy. But there was always time to stand around, debating over what music went on next, gossiping about the last night out you had, sleeping off your hangover in the stockroom. It was a wonderful place.

There were tell tale signs for ages. Little things that, had I been more clued up on life, might have made me realise what was coming. Overtime stopped getting paid, less Christmas temps, problems ordering new stock, etc etc etc. I remember there being rumours of trouble, talking about it behind the tills. But when I got that text off Susie, I felt like I’d been smacked in the face. And so I reacted in the way any rational person would. I cried all the way home on the train and then I drank two bottles of rum with my friend Brett. I don’t have very good memories of Christmas 008.

When I went back to work, on December 27th, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To this day, that shift is still the worst eight hours I have ever had. That day I realised how selfish and horrible other people can be. We all got to work and there was a grim determination in the air. It was like none of us wanted to be there, but we would get through it together. Then trading started, and all I remember is being shouted at by angry people who couldn’t use their gift cards. If you know anything about companies who go into administration you will know that gift cards immediately become invalid. It is not the choice of the staff. Let me say that again. IT IS NOT THE CHOICE OF THE STAFF YOU ARE SHOUTING AT. If you are the kind of person who would get angry about that, then think about this. You have just lost your £10 gift card. The person you are screaming at has just lost their livelihood. You may not think there are many people who would be that thoughtless, I certainly didn’t. But for the following six weeks, its all I can remember. We had people who were very understanding, kind, sorry for us. But my overriding memory, sadly, is not of our regulars who came to offer best wishes, but the many people who were angry at us for their loss. I understand the frustration, but I was too busy worrying about how I would pay my rent or find a job in January to be too sympathetic.

So Zavvi remained for a further six weeks. In that time, administrators tried to find buyers for the company as a whole, and then as parts. Smaller shops were closed and their stock passed to bigger stores like ours. It was like bucketing water out of a sinking boat, except it wasn’t water, it was people and their children and their mortgages and their homes and their ability to support themselves. Finally it came down to the last day. We learned from our manager, a long-haired jumpy character named Pete who loved caffiene and flowery shirts, that there was a potential buyer for our shop. He was buying five other Zavvis, turning them into his own company and he wanted ours. But there were negotiations first and it might not happen. So we had to pack up the shop. Literally everything had to be put into boxes and taped up. Every single shelf cleared, every corner of every stockroom emptied. It was the most depressing day ever. I remember wanting to cry, and being really glad my friend Jess was there. She ran the book department and I don’t know what I would have done without here in those few weeks. After work I went to the cinema with my housemates. When I came out of the cinema, I had a text.

‘We’re bought!’

Someone had bought Cardiff Zavvi! I still had a job! The next day we rushed back to work, signed new contracts and unpacked the boxes. We were trading by the afternoon under the name Head Entertainment. It was amazing! Back to the pub, this time to celebrate.

But the joy didn’t last long. The following seven months were a stark lesson for me in just how underhand and ruthless some people are in business. It’s quite shocking really. I won’t ramble on with the many, many details of how the whole Head Entertainment mess began, but a basic description would be; evil man buys out desperate shop, evil man screws desperate staff about, desperate staff realise they will lose jobs and also any redundancy entitlement. Evil man wins, desperate staff lose.

It’s a long, complicated story, that I don’t understand entirely, even now, but suddenly, less than a month after we were bought out, we found ourselves in the awful position of knowing that our jobs would end, and that we wouldn’t get any money at the end of it. Somehow it was even worse. And for the months leading up to summer, we all worked not knowing if we’d have a shop to come to the next day. But we had to work. I couldn’t find another job. Some people left. But the ones who remained were all in the same position. Stuck. Helpless. When the final cut came in July and we learned we were closing for good, it was almost a relief. We had to pack the shop up again. We all walked to the pub and had our last lunch together. Then we spent the whole night drowning sorrows. It was nice in a way, the whole thing bonded everyone quite tightly. Some of those people are still great friends of mine, and I hope they will remain as such. But really it was terrible.

It would be another month before I finally found a new job, this time in HMV. I didn’t want to go, and true enough, I hated every day I worked there. I don’t know why. I made some great friends there, people who became a big part of my life at the time, and we had some amazing times together. But I was utterly miserable, and less than a year later, they cut my hours down to one day a week, with 24 hours notice, essentially making me redundant again. And the old feelings returned.

In a society that is built on debt, when you spend two months out of work, and you have credit cards and rent and an overdraft to pay, you can easily be defeated. I had to admit defeat. I moved home, more experienced, maybe wiser, but completely broken. It took me a long time to pull myself back together. It took even longer to get the redundancy money owed to us by Head Entertainment. A two year court battle between us and the owners, entirely put together by our incredible floor manager Ev, a wonderfully funny, eccentric man, with a love of birds and woolen hats. He took them on, at an incredible cost to himself, and he won us the money in the end. But he shouldn’t have had to.

At the end of the day, you cant rant for hours about the government, and corporate companies and business and management. You’d probably be right. None of it is fair. People are screwed over all the time, just because they are small and the companies are big. Companies go under all the time because of mismanagement and greed and power hungry egomaniacs, and the people who suffer most are the people who started off at the bottom anyway. They just get trampled. But ranting doesn’t change anything. Neither does blogging about it. Because now HMV is in trouble and if they doesn’t find a buyer, that’s another 4000 jobs gone, and whatever you read or write about it on the internet isn’t going to change that.

Except its not 4000 jobs. It’s 4000 people. 4000 families. 4000 homes. Just like when our shop went under it was me and my credit card bills. Jess and her mortgage. Dan and his kids, Tony and his retirement plans. People’s lives thrown into absolute chaos. It’s the scariest thing that ever happened to me, and probably to alot of them too. I hope people realise that in the next few weeks, when they walk into a HMV and find out they can’t use their gift card anymore.

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87 thoughts on “Redundant.

  1. Been there a couple of times now, but it never hit me quite as hard as it seems to have hit you, for which I count myself lucky. I think part of the trouble is that people expect too much from “permanent” jobs. Sooner or later, we all find out that there’s no such thing!

    Also, totally agree that yelling at staff helps nobody, but the situation with gift vouchers is disgraceful. We all silently cheer the granddad who was in the news for walking out with product to the value of his vouchers. The business people thought he was small, and he showed them otherwise.

  2. Many businesses are collapsing due to what the finance industry calls ‘businesses’. Its often called investment, but in real terms is just loading debt on to big businesses to benefit banks and executives pay (funded by the debt) of the big companies. There is no doubt that the internet has been a factor with stores like HMV and Zavvi. But the truth is there are many other businesses which are close to collapse, where the internet has no influence. All of our biggest care home businesses (UK), like the collapsed Southern Cross Healthcare are in massive debt which was served to them by the finance industry. Also many National Health Trusts are in the same position. The internet is not the only reason for these businesses collapse. The bigger contributor is that the finance industry exploits big businesses and pumps money into them. Pension funds pay for losses of the banks when debt ridden businesses collapse, so the banks will rarely lose when businesses crash.

    I’d like to wish all better luck in the future who have recently lost their jobs, and I hope you Caitlin can find a job that will get the benefit of your degree.

    The truth is I think there is more of this to come unless some kind of revolution in the finance world happens. Please view my own blogs; X-ECONOMICS, ANTI-CRISIS ECONOMICS & ANTICRISISPOST.

  3. “My job was a doss”, “sleeping off hangovers in the store room”… That’s why companies fail, not because they didn’t buy more stock or have more temps at Christmas. This is exactly the attitude that ruins companies. Actions have consequences.

    • No, you wretched little moralist, companies fail (in this case) because the market changes and no longer supports their business model, or due to not being able to weather a recession.

      The do not fail because of an inability to make the lives of their employees miserable. As long as the job was done and the results were worth the pay, it doesn’t matter whether the work was grindingly relentless or “a doss”.

      • Nice try you wretched little judgmentalist but actually these jobs are not pseudo piece work that let you breach the terms if you feel you’ve done enough they are customer service. Sleeping off a hangover in a stock room isnt helping anyone who wants to spend money in a shop and isn’t really going to help you get to grips with an economy built on debt.

        There may not be many jobs around – all the more reason not to give yourself a disadvantage over your competition for a position by assuming you have a right to a wage that entitles you to disrespect your employers and more importantly your customers.

        All credit to the blogger though for honesty and a great heartfelt and timely post, don’t settle for dossing you clearly deserve more!

  4. I don;t know what to say really, other than thank you for reading this, I never, ever imagined so many people would! Thank you for the kind comments and well wishes. It’s astonishing and very, very sad that so many people know all to well how this feels.

    I would like to add that I in no way intended to make myself, and especially my colleagues appear in anyway lazy or like we took advantage of the company, because that could not be further from the truth. I think maybe if you thought that, you took my comments out of context or missed my point. I simply intended to show that there were times when we had a lot of fun. I think you’ll find that in any job. Maybe I should have worded it differently, but it was not like that all the time, and to imply that that is the reason so many companies fail is misguided at best.

    However, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment and share. I’m very grateful!

    • Hey Cait, I wish you had gone into detail about your appalling treatment by Head and the ‘Evil Man’ it would have been an eye opener for many people. I wish more people knew what the so called leaders did to the company and how they looked on the staff like they had trodden in something.

      • I did try to explain it originally, but I had difficulty putting it into readable words, so I took it out! I’m not sure I grasped the whole thing enough to give a decent explanation.
        But if anyone is interested, as I understand it, when Head bought us out, one of the terms of the deal was that they accepted continuity of employment. The administrators, who went through our new contracts with us, explained that it meant if you’d worked for Virgin/Zavvi for, say 12 years, then if Head made us redundant, they would be responsible for honouring those 12 years and paying a redundancy package that reflected that.
        Three weeks after we signed those contracts, we were given letters from the new owners saying that our contracts had no such clause and that when we started working for Head, we did so as completely new employees. If you have worked for a company for less than two years, the company itself doesn’t have to pay you redundancy, the government is liable for it and you get a basic package. So Head were saying that we had only worked for them for three weeks, and therefore when we closed down it was the government we would have to claim from. They also made it very clear that we would be closing down in the near future, they just didn’t know when. In terms of what I would get out of any redundancy deal, I’d only been there just over two years, so whether it was Head or the government, my redundancy would be about the same. But for most people in the store, their service was much longer than that and they were entitled to a substantial amount more, which a package from the government doesn’t take into consideration, as it’s just a really basic amount.
        When Head did finally close, Ev, our floor manager and I think some people from the other store in the same position, had already begun putting together a legal case. I think it would have been a lot easier if any of us had been in unions (I am in a union now, and I would never work again without being so). But when we actually closed, Head were refusing to pay any redundancy, saying we had only worked for them for eight months and therefore had to claim from the government, while the government refused to pay anything on the grounds that Head had accepted continuity of employment and they were responsible for it.
        It was a long, drawn out affair. The two men who owned the company appealed court decisions in our favour and did everything they could to get out of it, but eventually, after several court hearings, they couldn’t fight it anymore and had to pay us. It was almost two years later that anyone got any money for it. Out of the people who took it to court on our behalf, I only know Ev, but I cannot express how grateful I am to him and the people who did it for the other stores. It was a phenomenal act, and it’s such a great thing there are people like them in the world, fighting for justice on the behalf of themselves and others.
        I hope that’s all correct. Like I said, I only have a half grasped understanding of the whole thing and it seemed very complicated to me. It was basically people who painted themselves as saviours of the company, but who had absolutely no intention of investing in it or looking after the staff, and who just wanted to take advantage of a vulnerable group of people to make a quick buck. I understand business is business, and buying a cheap company to sell off cheap stock quickly is perfectly legitimate, but screwing over the staff in such an underhand, heartless way is disgusting and I’m glad they had to pay out in the end.

      • Thanks Cait, I believe the original buyout from Branson was all a very large con trick and money was meant to be made by the buyers with no thought for the staff or their futures. When it went a certain person saw a chance to make a heap of cash by crushing a bunch of underlings as he saw it, so he thought who cares as long as I have a pot of cash they can starve, lower than a slugs belly!!

  5. I can only suggest picking an industry that is not shrinking. If its shrinking people are going to be made redundant. Sounds like you should never have been treated quit so badly though.

  6. I’ve been there myself, know how much it crushes your confidence and how each day becomes flat and dull and grey. I ran a book shop for seven years, was laid off out of the blue and it took me close to three years to fully get past it. It’s not easy, it’s hugely traumatic and it’s not ‘a chance to not get stuck in a dead end job’, however well intentioned such sentiments may be. It’s trauma, plain and simple and you write about it honestly and openly. Good work, good luck and all my best wishes in getting past it.

  7. Cait

    Beautifully written. As someone who has now been made redundant four times, I recognise the feelings that you capture. Unfortunately the motivation of business is often the quick buck rather than sustainability, and as the big boys get ever richer, it’s the little people who suffer. It’s sad, but employees are not humans, with lives and aspiratiions – they are just a line on the balance sheet, and those who suffer at the whim of big business then find themselves labelled by the government as shirkers.

    Cliff

  8. Having been made redundant myself, I thoroughly sympathise with the predicament and this is beautifully written. Rejection after rejection, nothing to get up for in the morning, countless flashbacks to what you should have done or said before being heartlessly culled. 4000 more now in the same predicament and job-seekers are demonised… It isn’t right.

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  10. Good story, well written, strikes several chords with me.. been there, been bankrupt, not somewhere I would recommend anyone to ever go but sometimes.. you have to face reality. I’ve been self employed for 4 years and would recommend it to anyone, sure it’s hard work, insecure, scary… but at least some faceless “boss” won’t ever be able to sack you by text. Hope things work out for you, good luck :).

  11. Hi Cait, thanks for sharing your story. My husband also worked for zavvi and I remember that day so clearly when he rang me with the news. It was crushing to see life as we knew it disappear before our eyes, at a time when there were few other jobs around. We had just found out my mum was very ill and then this news came 5 days later, right before Christmas.

    I remember feeling so worried about losing our home and feeling guilty because our baby would also be affected. I was so angry and it felt like no one really cared. But, like you say, it’s just big business and there’s no point moaning because it changes nothing.

    Knowing what the employees went through i want to scream when the media only choose to cover the gift voucher saga. It is a sad fact that so many humans are utterly uncompassionate!

    We still have great memories of Virgin (where we met) and it made me smile to read your fond memories. It will forever be tinged with bitterness because of how certain individuals behaved, particularly those behind the Head scandal who strung you all along, planning to cash in on that remaining stock and then close the stores anyway. Well done to Ev who took them on.

    Thanks again for sharing, it’s therapeutic to read :)

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