A former John Lewis call centre worker told yesterday how he was fired – for disagreeing with one of the company’s directors in an online spat.
Andrew Rainnie, 31, left a comment on a blog article written by Patrick Lewis, director of partnership services for the retail giant.
Rainnie voiced his opinion after Mr Lewis claimed that “shared responsibility and shared reward” was behind the company’s success.
As an employee of a third party agency, working for johnlewis.com, Rainnie didn’t receive the same benefits as other John Lewis staff and took issue with the article.
He left the comment: “We receive minimum wage, no discount, and our Christmas bonus for being verbally abused on a daily basis was a bottle of Waitrose wine.”
He added: “I’ll probably be fired for this” – and five days later he was.
Rainnie, from Glasgow, Scotland, said: “I came home and posted the comment. I didn’t think anything of it at the time.
“A few days later my manager came up to me at work and asked me to come into a room where I was ambushed by another woman.
“She asked me if I had written the comments and I said I had. I defended what I had said but the woman said that it was against the social media clause in my contract.
“I had read this clause and took it to mean things like Twitter and Facebook which I have always been careful on.
“I didn’t expect it to apply to comments on an article on a newspaper’s website, especially considering the comment wasn’t derogatory or defamatory.
“I was just pointing out that I didn’t agree with what he had said as most people don’t receive that family discount.
“My main hope was that he would do something about the staff in call centres who don’t feel included.
“I asked them if they were firing me and she said ‘yes, we are going to let you go.’ I was escorted out the building after that.”
Mr Rainnie had worked for John Lewis via Teleperformance – a third-party agency – since September last year.
In the article, posted on the Guardian website last month, Patrick Lewis wrote: “Mutualism as a word can be confusing. To me it’s about togetherness – shared responsibility and shared reward. While not a guarantee of success, it does bring some very clear advantages.
“What we have discovered at John Lewis is that co-ownership leads to increased levels of productivity, low absenteeism, low staff turnover, higher levels of commitment and higher levels of wellbeing.
“Employees within our business enjoy a higher well-being at work than the national average. Having made this observation there is, in my view, a strong case for concluding that mutualism may be a strong model for delivering some of our public services.”
John Lewis is owned by a trust and operates a ‘partnership’ whereby employees known as ‘partners’ have a say in the running of the company and receive a share of annual profits in addition to their salary.
Employees of third-party agencies contracted by John Lewis, such as Teleperformance, aren’t considered ‘partners’ and don’t receive the same wages or benefits as frontline staff.
Rainnie said: “It seemed to me like Mr Lewis was saying that ‘mutualism’ was about an all-inclusive family but call centre staff aren’t a part of that.
“A lot of workers seem to be excluded from this partnership and that is what I took issue with.
“I believe that around 65% of the profits come from the dotcom part of the business so I think it is only fair that those staff receive the same benefits.
“I read the article and thought about how we help generate nearly two-thirds of the profits yet we get spoken to the way we are and don’t get the same pay or discount as other staff.”
Rainnie had said in his comment on the article: “Mutualism is a wonderful ideal, but where it fails in the case of John Lewis is which select groups of individuals it envelops within its benefits.
“For example, (and I’ll probably be fired for this), I work in the call centre for John Lewis.com, which is the powerhouse behind John Lewis’ profits.
“Whereas John Lewis staff who stand in store, or the Waitrose Partners who stock shelves, and their immediate families, receive the perks of the Partnership discount (at 12% or 25% depending on the type of product), those working for the website, from 7am until midnight, are contracted via a third party (much in the same way as the cleaners who clean the stores).
“We receive minimum wage, no discount, and our Christmas bonus for being verbally abused on a daily basis was a bottle of Waitrose wine.
“The verbal abuse over the Christmas period was particularly bad, being sworn and screamed at on a daily basis, and solely blamed for ruining Christmas when items were out of stock or lost in transit.
“In one instance which brought me close to quitting, the son of a Waitrose partner (so, someone who had done not one days work for the company itself) screamed at me because his discount had failed to come off a certain item, a problem that existed because his parents had not set up his discount correctly.
“Like I said, Mutualism is a wonderful ideal, but not when it is mutually exclusive.”
He then posted a further comment, which read: “While I jokingly said I may be fired for my initial comment, hoping to push forward a dialogue about mutualism and employment, instead my comment was reported to my employer and I was subsequently let go on the grounds of a social media clause in my contract. I guess the joke is on me.”
Rainnie, who previously worked as a media monitor in London, is now looking for another job.
He said: “I didn’t particularly like the job but it was money and I was supposed to have shifts until at least the end of February.
“This is the first time I have been fired. It wasn’t a shock but it was disappointing because of the reason behind it.”
A spokesperson for John Lewis said yesterday (Mon): “We can confirm that Mr Rainnie worked for Teleperformance, a third party contractor John Lewis employs to manage calls made to its website.
“John Lewis is not party to discussions about contracts Teleperformance has with its individual employees, and is not able to comment on decisions made as a result of such discussions.
“We did not recommend any course of action in relation to Mr Rainnie.
“We appreciate the importance of outsourced staff abiding by their contracts and we respect the right of our suppliers to enforce those contracts.
“At John Lewis, as an organisation with a culture which encourages honest feedback from our staff, we prefer to have an open discussion about any concerns in the first instance, with formal procedures a last resort.”
A spokesperson for Teleperformance added: “We can confirm that Mr Rainnie was employed on a temporary contract with us over the Christmas period.
“We do not comment on any employee’s individual circumstances.
“Teleperformance has a social media policy that all employees are made aware of, and we take seriously any behaviour that could undermine the reputation of us or our clients.
“As an employee of Teleperformance, the decision to terminate Mr Rainnie’s
contract was made by us and not John Lewis.”