Prices may rise and home deliveries could be slower unless the retail sector retains access to all EU workers after Brexit, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned.
The trady body’s annual workforce survey reveals that EU citizens account for just 6 per cent of the industry’s 170,000 workforce, however, they are concentrated in warehouse and distribution jobs.
More than half of retailers said their EU employees were worried about their right to remain in the UK.
Among British retail firms, 22 per cent report that EU workers have already left, according to the survey, while 56 per cent say that EU workers are concerned about their right to remain in the UK.
Without quick action to provide certainty for EU citizens working in the UK and an immigration system fit for the future, UK retailers could face higher wage bills, which would have a knock-on effect for consumers.
It argued that the retail sector should keep access to non-graduate European workers without the need for employer sponsorship after the UK leaves the EU.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the Brexit decision had created uncertainty for both business and their EU workers.
“It is not right that 16 months after the referendum these people still don’t have the security they need to continue their lives,” she said.
“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 spokesperson 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 (MAC) to assess the role EU citizens play in the UK economy and society. Their independent process will allow employers to submit their thoughts to an influential group of experts, independent of government.”