Morrisons is set to reveal a management restructuring in its stores within weeks that could lead to as many as 2,000 job losses.
The move, resulting from trials of three possible slimmed-down management structures in around seven of its new stores, is likely to affect managers overseeing product categories such as fresh food or non-food across the chain's 500 stores, according to industry insiders.
The supermarket group is holding its annual shareholder meeting in Bradford on Thursday, where chief executive Dalton Philips is expected to face anger from investors, including the founding family, after overseeing dramatic declines in sales and profits.
Morrisons declined to comment on the potential job cuts. However, the group has previously said that the changes were intended to simplify store management structures and lift the number of staff serving at its fresh food counters.
The company has previously said it had no plans for widespread redundancies, and many of the store management staff are expected to be offered other posts within Morrisons, including at its fast growing convenience store business.
However, Morrisons is keen to reduce staff numbers as it is under pressure to cut costs to fund its plans for £1bn in price cuts and product improvements over the next three years. Last month Morrisons cut prices on 1,200 items by an average of 17% after poor trade over the key Easter period contributed to a 7.1% slump in quarterly like-for-like sales.
Last month it began discussing plans to cut 100 jobs at its warehouse in Wakefield, which is home to about 1,200 workers.
The store staff restructure echoes those by major rivals who are also trying to cut costs in stores as grocery sales shift online and prices come under pressure from discounters such as Aldi and Lidl. "Restructures are going to happen everywhere because sales volumes are going down and aren't coming back so to keep shareholders happy costs have got to come down," one industry insider said.
Asda recently announced it was consulting with 4,100 senior store staff about job cuts as it employs more people in home shopping. It is thought as many as 2,600 of the Walmart-owned chain's staff will leave rather than accept an alternative, lower-paid job. Tesco and Sainsbury's have also restructured their store management teams in recent years.
Industry insiders said it was particularly tricky for Morrisons to cut store management staff as its array of fresh food counters carrying out butchery, fishmongery and baking need close supervision to ensure quality and health and safety standards are kept up.
Currently each Morrisons store has a manager, a deputy manager and three or four assistant deputy managers who oversee broad product categories such as fresh food. Supervisors for individual departments, such as green groceries, meat or fish, report to them.
Roger Owen, the former Morrisons director who recently launched a public attack on the chain's current management team, said he had already noticed a marked reduction in staff numbers in stores and estate management. He said this was having an impact on store standards. "We can see the results and it's empty shelves," he said. "Where they need to cut costs and staff is in head office."
Philips has admitted shareholders would "hold our feet to the fire" but has insisted they are backing him, saying the new plan was receiving "broad support".
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010