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Retail employment falls by 85,000

Tom Bottomley
24 October 2019

A new retailer survey released from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has revealed that retail employment fell by 85,000 in Q3, 2019, with both employees and hours dropping.

This marks 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, at 3.2%, than part-time hours at 2%.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC, said: “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.

“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.”

Some 62% of retailers have indicated plans to increase staff in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 43% last year, and 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%.

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