What age group is H M targeting?

“Unabashedly anti-family policy”: H&M is doing away with fixed shifts - young mothers in particular should work on weekends and in the late afternoon

In mid-April, the fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz sent a message to the German workforce, which at first glance should give hope. Sentences and terms such as “step into the future”, “grow with you in the long term”, “gratitude” are used. What seems so pleasant is actually the announcement of a revolution. H&M wants to abolish shift work in Germany as far as possible and let its employees work, especially in the late afternoon and on weekends during peak hours. The fashion giant packs these upheavals in pink wadding.

The announcement is the second part of the company's internal savings program. As a first step, the group wanted to cut 800 jobs and, above all, get rid of young mothers, the long-term sick and the severely disabled. All of this took place officially as part of a “volunteer program”. Behind the scenes, the group exerted massive pressure on the said employees. Business Insider reported exclusively.

This savings program is now as good as complete, writes the management in an internal message. In more than 100 stores, employees would have accepted H & M's offers, instead of the 800, "only" 600 jobs are now being cut. The official goal of H&M: "Reduction of contract hours".

The vegetable shop principle of the H&M managers has failed

But why the austerity program and the reduction of “contract hours” and jobs at all? H&M has long relied on the vegetable shop principle. The corporate management wanted to open as many stores as possible; this expansion would boost sales, was the widespread assumption at the top of the company. The concept worked for a long time, then online trading picked up speed a few years ago and customers changed their purchasing behavior. Many fashion chains quickly adjusted their business - H&M largely did not.

The figures speak for themselves: while more than 300 million visitors visited the H&M stores in Germany in 2015, the figure was only around 270 million in 2019. This is based on an internal H&M report that Business Insider has. Last year, the corona pandemic put another damper on the group, with visitor numbers falling to just over 100 million this year, according to an internal report. In 2020, sales of the fashion group fell accordingly by 11 percent to 2.9 billion euros.

The reaction of the management: Reduction of jobs and contract hours. The second part of the savings program is now based on the latter.

"We are convinced that with permanent fixed shifts we can no longer meet changing customer requirements," writes the company management to the employees. "With the changed model, we can use the available hours even better in customer-relevant time periods." And: "Of course, this entails changes in the working hours for some colleagues".

In plain language, the end of the shift system means that the fashion company can deploy its employees flexibly, especially at peak times in the late afternoon and on weekends. "A contract regulates the amount of working hours, but not their use," says H&M internally.

In the communication, the H&M management repeatedly emphasizes that the details still have to be worked out. The basic tenor of the announcement: the wishes of the employees are important, the management can talk to them.

Internal documents prove the opposite

Internal documents from corporate management that Business Insider has, however, prove the opposite. What's more, as with the first austerity program, H&M is again explicitly targeting young mothers. So it says literally in a section of the documents, in which it is about how the fixed into flexible working shifts are to be converted: "Prevention of a fixed contract structure, eg when returning from parental leave through fixed part-time working time models", and further: "Equalization Contract structure by transferring part-time employees ".

In plain language this means: When employees return from parental leave, H & M wants them not to return to the plannable shift system, but rather to be transferred to the shifts on the weekend and in the late afternoon. If in doubt, this should be done by transferring the employee. In the case of H&M, the majority of those affected are young mothers who are returning to work from parental leave.

It's also about vacation and breaks

But it's not just the working hours, it's also possible on vacation and breaks. The internal H&M document speaks of a “long-term vacation plan based on the peak times of the retail trade”. H&M may not legally prohibit its employees from taking vacation at Christmas time, the aforementioned "peak time" of the year. Such a thing can certainly be forced through internal pressure. From the peak times on the weekend and in the late afternoons during the week "clear conclusions can be drawn about the occupation and break planning," the document says.

The plans of the fashion giant anger the Verdi union. "Now that H&M has mainly pushed young mothers, the long-term sick and severely disabled people out of the company, the group now wants to change the working hours for the remaining employees so fundamentally that they can hardly be reconciled with normal family life," says Orhan Akman, head of the federal specialist group for the retail and mail order business at Verdi.

“This is further evidence of an unabashedly anti-family policy towards our own employees at H&M. The motto of the company management seems to be: Parenting is undesirable! ”Continues the group leader.

“The fashion giant wants to completely subordinate the working hours, but also the vacation entitlement of the employees, to the number of customers. This is particularly strong towards the weekend and towards the end of the day and shop closing time. In other words, exactly at the time when young parents have to and want to look after their children, ”adds Akman.

The Verdi man says that the long-term consequences of the H&M strategy are foreseeable: The fashion giant wants to reduce the volume of working hours in Germany, send many full-time employees part-time and convert part-time into so-called hourly wage contracts. The group is turning the cost screw at the expense of the employees, says Akman.

"Management as inflexible as rusty screws"

It is an oath of disclosure, because the situation in which H&M finds itself is the result of the mismanagement of the corporate management, says the group leader. For years, the managers had relied on store and space expansion, extended opening times and price wars instead of tackling dovetailing with online trading early on.

“The board members of the third largest fashion company in the world can think of no other answer than this simple move from the manager's manual for beginners: save costs, on the back of the employees, especially women. Management demands flexibility from the workforce, but it is as inflexible as a rusted screw itself, ”says Akman.

Business Insider has confronted H&M with the allegations. Some of the group denies, others it admits. For example the fact that the group would now “only” cut 600 jobs instead of the 800. H&M also confirms that the company is in a "transformation phase" and has to react to the changed wishes of its customers. "We have to and want to react to this," said the group's answer. The "working hours will change", it continues. “Working hours are currently planned in most shops with a fixed alternation of early and late shifts. However, this does not reflect the current requirements of our customers and also ensures an unbalanced distribution of work. It is now our responsibility to respond to these circumstances. "

The group confirms that the peak times are on weekends and between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. during the week. And adds: "Our ambition is to create a model that both ensures long-term planning in advance for our colleagues, as well as responding to the - constantly evolving - needs of customers".

"Fixed working hours" are "limited in time" possible

At the same time, H&M admits that the flexibilization of the employees' working hours, i.e. the waiver of the ability to plan working hours, which is especially important for mothers, is oriented towards the customer. “Yes, that's true,” Business Insider asked. "We are convinced that permanently fixed layers will no longer meet changing customer requirements."

In the new work model, “fixed working hours” are also possible for a limited period, for example “for looking after children”, according to the answer.

When it comes to planning breaks, it says: “We want to keep the time between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., as most of the customers visit our shops here. Part of this planning is appropriately staggered break planning, i.e. not too many colleagues in one break time, with little overlap. In this way we can ensure that when a colleague takes a break, the workload for the other colleagues does not increase ”. Breaks between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are “not excluded”, according to the company's response.

H&M is already putting pressure on mothers

As with the “fixed working hours”, it doesn't sound like the company is enthusiastic about it. But on the contrary. The first austerity program has already shown the means the company is using to implement its plans.

H&M is now using the aforementioned funds for the second austerity program. Business Insider has a letter from the management to an employee from the beginning of April who has a young child.

It states that the management will exercise its current right to direct and use the employee “in particular” from Monday to Friday up to and including 6.30 p.m. and plan on Saturday up to 4 p.m. “as long as you look after your child under 12”. It's a foretaste of what's in store for H & M's young mothers in the weeks and months to come.