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Financial Times: Shell staff lose lunch and gain pounds

By Matthew Richards
Published: December 23 2006 02:00 | Last updated: December 23 2006 02:00

Shell will prove there is still such a thing as a free lunch next month when it adds £7,000 to employees’ January pay packets to compensate them for the end of paid-for meals at the Shell Centre canteen.

Staff at the oil group’s London headquarters in Waterloo currently receive £3.75 to spend in the canteen for each day they come to work. But the payments will be made for the last time on January 31. After months of consultations, Shell offered to make the one-off payment to all centre-based staff employed on January 1 2007.

This means that even employees who leave the company in February will receive the £7,000. But although the payment should cover all but the most extravagant of shopping sprees in the January sales, not all staff are happy with the arrangement.

“It’s seen by a lot of people as a loss,” observes one employee who will be receiving the pay-out. She says the free lunches were an incentive for people to join Shell, and argues that those who remain with the company for at least 10 to 15 years would be better off with daily payments of £3.75 instead of the lump sum.

The centre is a landmark 1961 office tower overlooking the south bank of the Thames near Waterloo station. It houses more than 2,000 workers, although hundreds are outside contractors. In a move that could create perceptions of having a two-tier workforce, Shell is paying the £7,000 only to its own employees, even though its contractors currently receive the daily payments.

Some employees suspect that the end of free lunches is an indirect result of a big redevelopment of the centre, which includes an effort to use the space more efficiently. Although there are no definite plans yet, this may entail reducing the size of the canteen, as well as modernising the building’s infrastructure and replacing many individual offices with open-plan layouts.

The suggestion is that Shell has ended the daily pay-out in order to prevent a scaled-down canteen becoming overcrowded with cost-conscious employees.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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