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Usdaw to raise concerns about Life & Style with BIS

Date: 27 June 2011 The shopworkers Union Usdaw is writing to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to detail its concerns about the running of fashion and homewares chain Life & Style and its predecessor company Ethel Austin.

Life & Style Retail Ltd went into administration earlier this month amid press reports suggesting that owner Elaine McPherson may be involved in a deal to take the company out of administration for an unprecedented third time in as many years.

The Union says it is extremely concerned at the prospect of Ms McPherson being permitted to run the company again and has also written to Life & Style's Administrators to request they ensure any prospective purchaser demonstrates an ability to run the business effectively and can provide a long term sustainable future for its employees.

John Gorle, Usdaw National Officer said:

"Our immediate concern is to safeguard the jobs of as many of Life & Style's loyal and hardworking staff as possible and we have urged the Administrators to keep stores open and allow as much time as possible for a buyer to be found. However, we are extremely concerned by reports that the previous owner may be involved in taking the business out of administration for a third time."

"During the past three years, Usdaw and Life & Style's staff have done everything possible to try and help revive the business and make it a success, yet in return the staff have been treated in a truly appalling and cavalier fashion. There have been several occasions when staff have either not been paid or received just a fraction of what they were owed and most recently the company attempted to slash the pay of its store managers. This has normally been communicated to staff with little or no notice and with nothing more than a terse apology for 'any inconvenience caused'."

"With the best interests of the company, its staff and our members at heart, Usdaw has always tried to resolve and deal with these issues through dialogue and in private, but even this has proved an increasingly difficult and fruitless task. Reports that Ms McPherson may continue to be involved with the business really are the last straw and we can no longer remain silent on the way this company has been operating."

"Our members tell me Ethel Austin used to be a fantastic company to work for and that's why they have remained loyal and continued to back the business despite the shocking way they have been treated in the past three years. They are positive the company still has a future but are horrified at the thought of Ms McPherson returning to run it again and they can't believe what's gone on is all legal and above board. As one put it - 'in any other walk of life she'd have been fired long ago'."

Notes for Editors:

  1. Usdaw represents members at the 91 Life & Style stores that used to be part of the Ethel Austin chain.
  2. Former MK One chief executive Elaine McPherson acquired Ethel Austin's debt a month before the company first went into administration in April 2008. Ms McPherson then bought both Ethel Austin and sister company Au Naturale out of administration in May 2008. By February 2010 both companies were back in the hands of Administrators. While in administration, over 200 Ethel Austin and Au Naturale stores were closed and over 2,000 staff lost their jobs before Ms McPherson bought Ethel Austin out of administration for a second time in May 2010. Rebranded 'Life & Style', Ms McPherson was quoted at the time as saying she wanted to grow the business to 200 stores, but in just over a year the company has found itself back in administration yet again. Both prior to and subsequent to Life & Style entering administration, there has been speculation in the media that Elaine McPherson might be involved in a deal to take the company out of administration for a third time.
  3. Usdaw (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and fastest growing trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 17% in the last five years and by nearly a third in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

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