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Retail employment falls by 85,000 in three years as woes continue, says BRC

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Retail employment continues its fall, with some 85,000 jobs lost across the past three years, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

According to the research, the structural change in retail continues to unfold, with both employees and hours falling in Q3 2019, when compared to a year ago. This is the 15th consecutive quarter of year-on-year decline in the retail workforce. 

In Q3, the total number of retail employees fell by 2.8% year-on-year. Full-time employment saw a decrease of 4.5% compared to the decrease in part-time employees of 1.5%. Total hours fell by 2.6%, with full-time hours also seeing a greater reduction (3.2%) than part-time hours (2.0%).

This represents a slight acceleration in the fall in employment, with the total number of employees falling by 2.3% in Q2 and total hours falling by 2.5%. 

Some 62% of retailers indicated plans to increase staff in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 43% last year. 38% plan to keep their staff numbers unchanged (in line with the 36% from last year). No retailers surveyed expressed plans to reduce employment levels, as compared to 21% last year.

Retailers always increase workforce during the peak trading period. However, this seasonal pick-up in staffing is only temporary, designed to help retailers deal with increased demand during the Golden Quarter. 

The retail employment trends are in stark contrast to the UK labour market as a whole. According to the ONS UK employment increased by 0.3 percentage points on the year, reaching 75.9% over the three months to August 2019, just below the record-high employment rate of 76.1%.  The BRC expects the long-term decline in employment to continue due to a combined effect of the ongoing structural change, weak consumer spending and fierce competition within the industry. 

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, says: “We have seen a persistent downwards trend in retail employment over the past three years, with the Q3 fall of 2.8% equivalent to a loss of 85,000 people across the UK retail industry in the preceding 12 months. Weak consumer demand and Brexit uncertainty continue to put pressure on retailers already focused on delivering the transformation taking place in the industry. While MPs rail against job losses in manufacturing, their response to larger losses in retail has remained muted.”

Dickinson continues: “The Government should enact policies that enable retailers to invest more in the millions of people who choose to build their careers in retail. In order to promote innovation, training and productivity, Government must reform both the broken business rates system, and the inflexibilities of the apprenticeship levy. This will allow retailers to focus on enhancing their digital and physical offerings for customers, support the development of employees and ensure high streets remain diverse and exciting places for everyone.”

Cerys Johnson, CEO, REPL Group, adds: “Fears that 85,000 jobs have been lost in retail are alarming. Although it may look like the high street is dying, in fact it’s just changing. Currently, many retailers are overstaffing during quiet shifts, further contributing to unnecessary expenditure and resulting in redundancies. Rather, they should be trying out alternative methods of flexible working; this could save them money and improve individual employee satisfaction, as staff won’t be given shifts when they’re not needed and retailers won’t over-hire and spend more money than required. Although we’re seeing job losses front-of-house, there’s a lot going on in the background too with the creation of new roles that we don’t see outright – roles in warehousing and robotics, for example.”

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