British retailers employ 3 million people in the UK, but you’d think from Labour immigration spokesman Chris Bryant MP’s comments that they all come from Gdansk or Warsaw rather than Dagenham or Wakefield.
British retailers employ 3 million people in the UK, but you’d think from shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant’s comments that they all come from Gdansk or Warsaw rather than Dagenham or Wakefield.
In the event, he backtracked on the substance of his most damaging allegations - that British people were being passed over for jobs in favour of cheaper labour from Eastern Europe.
But Bryant’s targeting of retailers shows the shop-keeping industry has a problem it must address: its record on job creation and image as a choice of career is undervalued.
It’s easy to see why politicians sometimes set up the retail industry as an Aunt Sally. Consumers, for which read voters, go into shops every day so the sector can be a lightning rod on issues such as employment.
The scale of big retailers and the associated penchant for bashing them for success can also make them easy targets as politicians seek to curry favour among an electorate worried about employment and the economy.
Retailers need to become better at putting across the real story on job creation and career development. That story is not how many hundreds of distribution centre jobs may have gone to overseas workers but about retail’s massive contribution to employment in general.
Tesco alone employs more than 300,000 people in the UK, full and part-time, and Next about 50,000. The last BRC–Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor showed employment in the industry was up 3.7% in the second quarter of 2013 compared with a year earlier. It was the strongest growth since December 2009.
It is true that retailers have had to hunt internationally for staff. Next acknowledged that in its statement on Bryant’s original allegations. Next observed: “The only reason we seek the help of people from Poland is that we simply can’t recruit enough local people to satisfy… spikes in demand for temporary work.”
Retailers sometimes find it difficult to find suitably qualified staff, or those with the right attitude. But they have shown themselves very willing to develop employees through apprenticeship schemes and similar initiatives. Only today, Asda revealed plans for a retail degree in partnership with Middlesex University.
Retailers are doing their bit to create jobs and provide worthwhile educational qualifications. Isn’t that what politicians such as Chris Bryant should be do doing?
Tesco and Next hit back at Labour's foreign workers claim
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Comment: Chris Bryant's criticism of Next and Tesco missed the real retail jobs story