Brexit uncertainty is driving up prices as more retailers seek to deal with rising labour costs and a worker exodus, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned in a new report.
The BRC said the knock-on impact of a potential reduction in availability of skills and workers, on top of higher costs of employment, “could hit consumers”.
Its latest report, The People Roadmap, found European Union nationals employed at more than half (56%) of UK retailers are concerned about their right to remain following Brexit. Just over a fifth (22%) of retailers reported that employees from the EU have already left their UK workforce.
To offset rising employment costs, 13% of retailers have raised their prices, while 25% said they may consider raising prices in future.
The figures show 170,000 people from the EU work directly in retail, accounting for 6% of the industry’s UK workforce. Roughly 4% of head office retail staff are EU nationals.
A quarter (26%) of retail employees working in warehousing and distribution in the Midlands are from the EU.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson cautioned 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”.
She added: “First and foremost, the government must provide certainty for the people from the EU who are already living and working here. 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.
“Secondly, we recognise that free movement from the EU is coming to an end, and that this is a reset moment. So, at a time when the retail industry is in the midst of a transformation that is changing the very nature of retail jobs, we need a demand-led and simple alternative. Simple for employees and employers alike and based on consumer need not political rhetoric.
“And thirdly, looking at our domestic workforce; the government should work with our industry to invest in the skills and talent for the future. In particular, for the apprenticeship system to be part of that investment, retailers need additional flexibility to target levy funds into ongoing high levels of customer service, rather than it being written off as just another tax.”