There were almost 56,900 people working in retail and wholesale needing the pandemic unemployment payment to make ends meet on the eve of the lifting of restrictions this week on retailers, new figures show.
A large part of these workers will go back to work as the level 5 restrictions are lifted this week but there are fears that the shops in the once busy centres will be forced to shake out many jobs after the Christmas rush.
The fears come after Britain's Arcadia retail group which the Mandate union estimates employs around 900 people across all its stores in the Republic went into administration in Britain and Ireland this week. On Monday night, the High Court here appointed provisional liquidators to four Irish operating companies that are part of Arcadia, including Topshop, that operate 14 stores and other outlets in the Republic. The court was told that it was hoped the Irish stores would be saved and would trade through Christmas.
Arcadia owns Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Miss Selfridge, Evans, Burton, and the Outfit brands, and has 13,000 staff in the UK.
And today, another struggling British retailer, Debenhams said it will close down all its 124 outlets in the UK and its online store, which employs 12,000 people. The retailer had already controversially shut its stores in the Republic in April.
Experts fear that after Christmas when many shops generate 40% of their annual sales that there will inevitably be another shakeout of retail jobs through the winter.
A large number of the 56,893 retail and wholesale workers on the PUP scheme will go back to work this week, but will still be concerned about their jobs, analysts said.
The Mandate union said its worst fear is that the Arcadia shops will follow Debenhams and shut completely in the Republic.
British retail fashion groups were facing a crisis even before the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. They were being squeezed by other more successful European fashion rivals as well as by high rents and an accelerated drive toward online shopping driven by the pandemic.
"You would have to really worry about the sustainability of a lot of those retail jobs in the first few months of next year when the Christmas rush has dissipated and under the possibility of further lockdowns," said economist Jim Power.
Retail workers who volunteered to prepare for re-opening of retail to lose Christmas bonus - Mandate Trade Union Ireland https://t.co/OCB8zZsJVA— Mandate Trade Union (@MandateTU) December 1, 2020
Fergal O'Brien, director of policy at business group Ibec, said there will be an increase in retail employment in December but that "the cumulative impact of the lockdowns" will hit next year.
He said that the business group was optimistic about the economy in 2021 and cited what Ibec estimates as a total of €10bn in additional savings households have built up since the start of the crisis.
On commercial retail rents, Ibec wants the Government to do more to help retailers and landlords resolve rental agreements to provide long-term stability.
Mandate general secretary Gerry Light said that there were concerns about retails jobs through the winter which required intervention from Government.