UK retailer Marks and Spencer has come under fire from unions representing the 1,230 employees facing redundancy as a result of cutbacks.

M&S yesterday (7 January) unveiled plans to close 27 stores as it looks to slash costs from the business. The closures will lead to the loss of 780 jobs, while M&S has earmarked a further 450 head office posts that will be cut.

The company has seen sales slump over the last quarter, with UK like-for-like sales down 7.1% over the 13 weeks to 27 December.

The GMB union, the UK's general union, has warned that the company must follow proper procedures before deciding upon the redundancies.

"M&S has been planning this mass sacking for some time and managers have in many cases selected who is going. This is against the law and ignores the employment rights of their employees," GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said.

"M&S must now enter into 90-day consultation with their employees before selecting those to be made redundant. They must make the business case for the closures and the cull in stores and at head office. M&S employees selected for redundancy before the end of the consultation period will have an automatic case for unfair selection for redundancy at an employment tribunal."

Meanwhile, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) expressed "shock" at the news.

"We want to know the business case for this decision and are seeking to meet with the company to have urgent meaningful consultation to allow us to fully represent any of our members that may be affected," Usdaw national officer John Gorle said.

"We hope other retailers will not panic and announce major redundancies as their staff are their greatest asset and Usdaw will always encourage companies to take a long-term view. Retailers will not want to lose experienced and trained staff and also redundancy can be a costly option and also lead to poor morale among the remaining workforce," Gorle added.

"It is important that retailers maintain staffing levels to ensure a high level of customer service and satisfaction otherwise they run the risk of customers going elsewhere," he warned.

While M&S declined to respond directly to the criticisms levelled at it, chairman Sir Stuart Rose did deny that the company was acting cynically when it changed the terms of its redundancy package in September.

"If, at some point in time, we decide to look at our redundancy terms - which we did because they are the most generous in the sector - to make sure they were appropriate that is one thing. If, subsequently, we need to trim our costs in the business, that is another thing.  If you are suggesting that there was a linkage between the two, I will say 'no'," he said.

"We will be fulfilling our legal obligation and there will be a 90 day protected period for all our affected staff," Sir Stuart added.

M&S said that it will begin formal group consultation with employee representative bodies next week, when further details of the move will be given.