BRC calls for clarity on EU workers to protect retailing after Brexit

More than half of retailers have colleagues from the EU who are concerned about their right to remain in the UK after Brexit, a report from the British Retail Consortium has shown.

The BRC is calling on the government to provide certainty for people from the EU working in the shops and retail distribution and for a new immigration system “fit for the future”.

It also wants to see more investment in skills for domestic workers to make them better equipped to work in a post-Brexit retail industry.

Some 170,000 people from the EU work directly in retail, accounting for six per cent of the industry’s UK workforce.

The People Roadmap report says that 56 per cent of retailers have EU colleagues worried about their right to remain in the UK and 22 per cent have already had people from the EU leave their workforce.

The BRC warns that the knock-on impact of a potential reduction in availability of skills and workers, and higher costs of employment, could hit retail prices and services.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created uncertainty, not only for business, but for the people from the EU they employ.

“These are real people with families, livelihoods and homes in this country. It is not right that 16 months after the referendum these people still don’t have the security they need to continue their lives.

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

“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.”

The report was welcomed by shopworkers’ union Usdaw, whose general secretary John Hannett added: “The BRC is moving the debate on to try to tackle the real issues behind the headlines.

“The research in the report illustrates how important the EU migrant workforce is to retail, especially the distribution and logistics that supports the sector. 

“I am pleased that the report is recommending that EU migrant workers already working in the retail and distribution sectors should be guaranteed their rights to continue to work and live in the UK. 

“Many of these workers, who are members of Usdaw and other trade unions, have settled and made their homes here and must be allowed to stay and carry on working in the UK.

“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.”