HR · 10 October 2017

Retail industry outlines three demands to protect workforce post-Brexit

warehouseman worker using wireless barcode scanner. Warehouse Management System
In the Midlands, over a quarter of retail employees working in distribution are from the European Union

Leading figures from the UK’s retail industry have set out three key demands to ensure employers in the sector maintain access to the right skills and talent after Britain leaves the EU, warning increased employment costs will be handed down to consumers.

The BRC’s People Roadmap report has illustrated how a lack of certainty around the future status of British retail’s 170,000 EU workers has the potential to disrupt businesses, and subsequently increase prices for consumers.

According to the BRC’s research, 56 per cent of retailers believe their European staff are concerned about their right to remain in the UK, while almost one in four retailers even reported that workers had started to leave the country.

A significant reduction in the availability of skilled workers would increase costs for employers, the report warned, while Britain’s exit from the EU arrived at a time of significant technology-driven transformation in the sector.

Articulating the concerns of retail business owners, Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said the UK’s decision to leave the EU had created uncertainty for both employers and their workforce.

“It is not right that 16 months after the referendum these people still don’t have the security they need to continue their lives,” she said.

“From our data, it is clear that unless we have the right structures in place to support retailers attract, recruit and retain workers, consumers will soon start to see and feel an impact as they shop.

Dickinson set out the BRC’s three demands needed to ensure stability among retail businesses.

  1. Government must provide certainty for EU workers already settled in Britain and make clear the practicalities of applying for settled status
  2. A recognition of retail’s digital transformation, with demand-led access to workers based on “consumer need not political rhetoric”
  3. Focus on the domestic workforce, increasing investment in the future skills and talents the retail industry requires

Welcoming the BRC’s report, John Hannett, general secretary from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) agreed with echoed Dickinson’s concerns.

The retail and distribution sector is a big employer of labour. We agree with the BRC that there needs to be a focus on developing the skills of the UK workforce to meet the challenges ahead,” Hannett said.

“But, going forward, the sector will continue to need EU workers to come and work in retail, distribution and food manufacturing.  We need a debate, based on facts and evidence, as to what that post-Brexit retail sector will look like.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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