More than 170 staff were axed as supermarket chain GrandMart shut its seven branches yesterday, withholding salaries and refusing redundancy. About 90 full-time employees sought help from the Labour Department and made a claim for unpaid wages, severance pay and payment in lieu of notice totalling more than $10 million, it was estimated. The firm's director, Alex Lau Kam-hung, summoned staff at 5.15pm on Thursday, some employees reported. He announced that the company would be liquidated and was unable to pay them this month's wages plus other compensation, advising them to file a claim with the Labour Department. Major department heads and the entire security department of six were ordered to take one-month paid leave at the end of July, warehouse and distribution manager Robert Leung Kung-kai, 51, said. GranMart owed him more than $200,000, he said. 'The new management are all cowards. They dared not come out and talk and chose to sack us at the end of a month. Not only 90 staff but 90 families are affected. These people are without conscience,' he said. The four departments affected were personnel and administration, accounting, security and international trading, said Mr Leung, who has been with the company since it started business in 1993. Accounting manager Johnson Lam Kin-wai, 40, said: 'It's a shame that the company closed down. I feel angry and very unsettled.' The firm owed him more than $170,000, he said. He said GrandMart had been making a net profit of $600,000 to $700,000 per month, with a turnover of more than $20 million, throughout this year. Personnel and administration manager Elaine Ng,one of the principal earners in her family, said: 'Both my parents are retired. My brother and I have to pay off mortgages and now my family's income is halved.' The employees said they suspected the closure was because of the abrupt and hasty change in its management in July, deploying directors with almost no experience in the retail industry. Labour Department officer Geoffrey Wong Kwok-kui said Joanna Wong Shui-fai, the firm's assistant chief operating officer, had filed a winding-up liquidation petition at the High Court. The hearing date is September 16. GrandMart has branches in Tsuen Wan - where it is headquartered - Sheung Wan, Sheung Shui, Sha Tin and Kwun Tong. The company could not be contacted yesterday.