Higher retail employment costs after Brexit will hit consumers in their wallets, according to a new report out today from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
The report, The People Roadmap, spells out the impact of the UK leaving the EU on the retail industry, including the workforce changes that will affect consumer choice and experience.
It revealed that 22% of people from the EU have already left the UK workforce and more than half of EU workers are still uncertain about their right to remain in the country. This is worrying given that over 17,000 people from the EU work directly in the sector amounting to 6% of the entire UK workforce.
Certainty for EU workers is priority
Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the BRC, said that the government should work with the industry to invest in the skills and talent for the future, but ‘first and foremost’ it has to provide certainty for the people from the EU who are already living and working here.
She said: “The offer of settled status is positive but colleagues need to know the practicalities of acquiring this: how you apply, what it costs and when the cut-off date is. It is not right that 16 months after the referendum these people still don’t have the security they need to continue their lives.”
Dickinson added that Brexit comes at a time when the sector is already facing a technology-driven transformation. She said this is changing the very nature of retail jobs and increasing the need for new and different skills.
She called for the apprenticeship system to be part of the government investment such as additional flexibility to target Levy funds into ongoing high levels of customer service, rather than it being written off as just another tax.
Recommendations from the report
Maintaining the choice and availability of affordable, quality products for consumers is at the centre of achieving a fair Brexit for consumers, according to the BRC. The retail workforce is critical to achieving this and the report recommended:
- A simple and accessible system for securing settled status
- Aligning the date for acquiring settled status to the date the UK formally leaves the EU
- Automatic transition to settled status for those who have already acquired permanent residence under EU law.
It also suggested that a future system should be demand-led that does not require employer sponsorship along with access to non-graduate labour from the EU. It added that effective integration between the new immigration system and UK employment law was also needed.
The report was welcomed by John Hannett, General Secretary from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), who was pleased the report tackled the real issues behind the headlines.
He said: “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. 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.”
The report said that 13% of retailers have already raised their prices to offset rising employment costs, while 25% said they may consider doing so in the future.