Premier Inn owner faces protests over job cuts despite profits boom

Premier Inn owner Whitbread is facing protests at its annual general meeting over plans to cut 1,500 UK jobs.

The demonstration comes as the firm reported on Tuesday a "strong performance" in the first quarter of the year, including a 1% rise in sales to £739m.

Unite has organised the protest outside the Dunstable headquarters of the hospitality company, which also owns restaurant chains Brewers Fayre, Beefeater and Bar + Block, this afternoon.

Whitbread sparked outrage earlier this year when it announced the job losses on the same day as reporting annual profits of £561m - a 36% rise.

Whitbread said the cuts were part of plans to build more hotel rooms and slash its chain of branded restaurants by more than 200.

In a trading update on Tuesday, the company said it was "confident" in its outlook for the year "underpinned by our strong commercial programme and good progress on cost efficiencies".

However, Unite - which Whitbread does not formally recognise - has accused the firm of failing to answer "basic questions" about the redundancy process and also claimed it has not properly consulted staff, some of whom live in accommodation tied to their workplaces.

The union's general secretary Sharon Graham said: "Rarely is a company so shameless as to celebrate leaping profits and dividends by announcing mass job cuts.

"But generating runaway profits while trampling workers is business as usual for Whitbread... Unite will be holding the company to account for its disgraceful race to the bottom behaviour and offering full support to our members impacted by these cruel and unnecessary redundancy plans."

Read more from business:
Train season ticket use collapses

Football fans targeted by retailers as grocery inflation eases
Business investment in UK 'rock bottom' of G7 nations

Speaking in a statement via Unite, an anonymous member of staff said: "I feel I can speak for quite a few people when I say we're all scared of what is coming.

"There are people out there not only losing their jobs but their homes too and there is little to no support from head office.

"We are now sat counting down the weeks wondering what will happen."

A spokesperson for Whitbread said it did "not accept these allegations".

They added: "The consultation process is still ongoing and as part of this we are seeking to find alternative opportunities wherever possible through the roles created by this programme and our existing recruitment process that makes [around] 15,000 hires each year.

"We expect to retain a significant proportion of those who wish to remain with us and are providing dedicated support to our teams."