In the turmoil, Pimkie is looking for a buyer

The news came as a surprise in mid-May: Shareholders in the Mulliez Galaxy only guarantee the salaries of Pimkie employees until December. In the clothing brand’s stores, worry mixes with indignation. A meeting between management and unions will take place on June 8.

The announcement was made by videoconference, in some vagueness and without any notice sent to the unions. On May 19, employees of the Pimkie ready-to-wear brand, owned by the Mulliez Family Association, received a blow to the head: The Employment Protection Plan (PSE), as planned by the new CEO, was rejected by shareholders. The cold shower, says Valérie Cuvelier, union representative FO in the company and elected to the Social and Economic Affairs Committee (CSE). They told us that we were looking for a buyer and that our salary would be guaranteed until December.

In addition to the substance of the message, which is particularly anxious, the form is indignant. The staff representatives at CSE were not informed of the situation, even though the committee had met the day before. We asked the director of human resources what was the content of the video conference the next day, he replied that there was no need to inform us, is indignant Valérie Cuvelier. The feeling of contempt and disrespect is present. The agenda was completely vague, and not all employees even made their arrangements to join the meeting.

An increasingly complicated social dialogue

The elected FO condemns in Pimkie’s management behavior a crime of obstruction, that is, an attack on the smooth running of the staff representatives’ mission and the exercise of the right to organize. Nothing to surprise Gérald Gautier: It has become customary, because the labor inspectorate does not move and the labor ministries say nothing. In this case, the Danish Working Environment Authority has been contacted by FEC-FO, so far without success.

Faced with the management’s position, an inter-union, in which FO participates, asked to start negotiations with the management. to be part of the process of finding the buyersays the union representative.

Despite difficulties in maintaining the social dialogue in the company, a meeting between the various parties is to be held on Wednesday, June 8th.

Five CEOs in five years

What will happen to Pimkie’s 1525 employees in 2023? ? Valérie Cuvelier, 33, does not hide her fears. With each plan announced, we tell ourselves we have the solution. But after five CEOs in five years, we no longer hope. A turnover that is explained by the demands of the shareholders in the Mulliez family, assesses Gérald Gautier, Secretary of the Federal Department of Commerce and VRP at FEC-FO (Federation of Employees and Executives): The targets were, I think, not achievable, the DGs and CFOs rolled.

Within the company, the struggles of the Pimkie brand are no secret. As our financial situation was very fragile, we expected a PSE, a list of affected stores, explains Valérie Cuvelier. In the fire repositioning project previously presented by the new CEO for 2022, 70 stores were threatened out of a park with 232 stores and 81 subsidiaries. Already in 2018, a social plan had been right around thirty stores and more than 200 jobs. Every month in CSE we are scared, the activist testifies. We are very often told about a new closure.

From plan to plan, the group has only reduced the workforce

For Gérald Gautier, it is inevitable: There will be social collapse. For several years, the family association Mulliez – an economic interest group where all companies are legally independent – has constantly restructured its clothing brands, including Jules, Brice and Rouge-Throat. We are still dealing with the strange practices of the Mulliez group, its perpetual PSE, its transformations, the Federal Secretary supports. From plan to plan, the group has only reduced the workforce. These are, in fact, plans that are in continuity, aiming to always create more profits. At Mulliez in clothing, employees suffered a lot, shareholders much less. The fortune of the Mulliez family is estimated at 24 billion euros.

A painful precedent thus creates fear for Pimkie’s future. In 2020, the kit furniture brand Alinéa was put on suspension of payments, and then taken over … by its former shareholders from the Mulliez Galaxy. A few months later, the Phildar brand suffered the same fate. This was made possible by a government order from May 2020, which allows the managers of a company that has filed for bankruptcy to reposition themselves as acquirers. In the midst of the epidemic, the measure was originally intended to allow small business owners sunk by Covid to resume business. Previously, prior permission was required from commercial law.

Harmful strategic choices

At Pimkie, however, union delegates reported on the difficulties identified on the spot. It is not in the absence of having explained to them what does not work, confirms Valérie Cuvelier. One of the main reasons, I think, is that we have not been able to take the digital turn. The rise in online sales and the second-hand market weighed on the clothing market, even before the Covid crisis. In addition, there is a problem with brand identity: We can not position ourselves, we change goals for each collection.

Other strategic choices have also caused damage to the company, starting with the use of outsourcing for logistics and IT, which has caused many mistakes. Faced with difficult working conditions, the high turnover among the salesmen completes the brand’s daily life. Impossible to blame the staff leaving, Valérie Cuvelier insists: They generally have contracts for 24 hours a week, paid at the minimum wage. And these are flexible part-time employees, they can do 33% of the hours below or above their hourly base, and that changes every week. Moreover, under these conditions, having another job is complicated.

One claim: reclassifications throughout the Mulliez galaxy

The employees’ waltz deteriorated even more after the last announcement to the direction’s hussar. Other brands are coming to encourage salespeople to leave Pimkie and join them, Valérie Cuvelier notes. We have many teams where there is only one leader left, but no more salespeople. In addition to the debt accumulated due to internal and external difficulties, this situation exacerbates the fear: How can you make a buyer jealous when everyone leaves the ship ? How we maintain our turnover under anxiety-provoking and deteriorating conditions ?worries the activist.

If job retention remains a priority for FO at this stage, there is another battle to be expected for Gérald Gautier. In case of social breakdown it will be necessary opportunities for redistribution throughout the Mulliez group, supports the Federal Secretary. All of the brands that have so far been considered independent depend on the goodwill of the Mulliez family. By 2020, the door for Alinéa and Phildar employees had been slammed for a reclassification of brands considered to have better health: Decathlon, Boulanger, Leroy-Merlin … While the founder of the group presents this as a family , above all, demand that their jobs be protected !

Leave a Comment