Rising prices and slower deliveries are among the key issues that will face the UK retail industry if non-graduate EU nationals were not allowed to work in the country after Brexit, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned.
In a new report published today, the BRC said EU nationals made up six per cent of the industry’s workforce with 170,000 employees.
It also highlighted how they there were concentrated in certain areas of the country and in warehousing and distribution jobs.
A survey also found that 56 per cent of retailers said their EU staff members were worried about their right to remain in the UK, while 22 per cent said staff had already left the country.
The BRC warned that any reduction in the availability of skills and workers through the ending of free movement for EU nationals could lead to higher employment costs for businesses.
It added that this could affect consumers when it comes overall shop prices to waiting time on deliveries.
The BRC argued the uncertainty around EU nationals’ future in the UK was “not right” and urged the government to provide more clarity on the practicalities of applying for settled status and that the cut-off date must be aligned with the day the UK leaves the EU.
They also argued that once Brexit officially occurs, retailers should have access to non-graduate EU labour in a “demand-led” immigration scheme that does not require visa sponsorship from the employer.
Additionally, BRC highlighted the need for investment in skills to provide retailers better flexibility on the apprenticeship levy.
“The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created uncertainty, not only for business, but for the people from the EU they employ,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.
“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.
“And from our data it is clear 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.”
A government spokesman said: “After we leave the EU we will have an immigration system which works in the best interests of the UK. Crucial to the development of this will be the views from a range of businesses.
“We have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to assess the role EU citizens play in the UK economy and society.”
The government added that this process “will allow employers to submit their thoughts to an influential group of experts, independent of government”.