WORKERS at the Kelso branch of the Haldanes supermarket chain claim they have been betrayed by bosses after the bombshell news that the store was to close this week.
The employees claim they were assured their jobs were safe only weeks ago, but all 50 received letters on Thursday telling them administrators were to be appointed and the Roxburgh Street store would shut its doors on Tuesday of this week.
A Haldanes spokesman had given a categorical assurance back in April to TheSouthern that the Kelso store would “absolutely definitely” continue trading in the town.
The Haldanes group, which has 26 shops in the UK – 13 of them in Scotland – and employs 600 people, was launched less than two years ago.
It bought most of its stores from the Co-operative group, which was forced to sell some shops by the Office of Fair Trading following its acquisition of Somerfield.
But last month Haldanes launched legal action against the Co-op, claiming if it had been aware of the trading performance of these shops, it would not have bought them. The Co-op has denied the allegations.
Haldanes’ chief executive Arthur Harris told TheSouthern yesterday that, back in April, when the firm said its intention was to keep trading at Kelso, that had genuinely been the plan, with the hope mediation talks with the Co-op would have been successful.
And he says he and the other directors are now “devastated” at having to close stores and that their thoughts are with their employees in Kelso who now find themselves facing an uncertain future.
Mr Harris says Kelso staff could have been layed off at the point last week when the company filed its intention to appoint adminstrators but that workers were asked to stay on for an extra week to help liquidate stock.
“The staff wilL be paid all their wages for their previous weeks’ work through the Government redundancy scheme,” he said.
“Myself and the other directors have pumped in £2million since January to keep Haldanes going in the belief the Co-op would talk to us. It was a gamble we took and it’s a gamble we’ve lost.
“There’s been accusations from some of the staff which doesn’t help anybody at all. But I can’t say anything to them because they won’t believe me. They think this has been done with some ulterior motive. But we have been very transparent.
“We do have other companies but you just can’t keep taking from one company to support another.”
But workers in Kelso say the company should feel ashamed of its conduct towards its staff.
One of those is Brenda Wyllie, whose daughter and niece were also employed in the Kelso store.
“Many of the girls losing their jobs have worked there for more than 20 years, some have been there all through the years the store was run by Somerfield, Morrisons, Safeway and maybe even as far back as Presto or Templetons,” she said.
“We were told in the letter we got last week that administrators were being appointed and that the store would close on June 14, that if we wanted a week’s wages before losing our jobs we had to turn up this week.
“And that’s all we’re getting from the company. As we normally get paid monthly, it means we have worked the previous three weeks for nothing.
“You can’t tell me the bosses didn’t know this was coming weeks ago? Yet they were telling us everything was fine. It’s a disgrace.”
Her sister, Kerry Yule, whose daughter is losing her job, is also angry: “As well as 50 paypackets lost to individuals and familes in Kelso, that’s 50 incomes taken out of the local economy, not to mention the loss of a vital service to Kelso town centre.
“To go into that store last week and see those women, many in tears and inconsolable, was terrible. No wonder they are all angry and bitter.
“They’ve just been fobbed off after years’ of loyal service.”
Local Scottish Borders councillor Tom Weatherston said it was vital the terms laid down by the Competition Commission be adhered to, in that the shop remains a retail supermarket.
“The town centre needs a shop of this nature in Roxburgh Street, not only for jobs, but for the vitality of other shops in the area, and I sincerely hope the shop is marketed as a supermarket as soon as possible for the good of Kelso,” he said.
A spokesman for Tesco has denied that it is interested in the Haldanes site.