Concerns the damage done to bricks and mortar retailing will be long lasting

There are fears that a significant number of retail workers will fail to return to jobs even when the crisis fully ends
Concerns the damage done to bricks and mortar retailing will be long lasting

Debenhams was one of the prominent retail casualties of the pandemic. File picture: Eddie O'Hare

Concerns are rising that workers in wholesale and retail will struggle to return to work as new figures show the number of people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment continues to fall. 

New figures from the Department of Social Protection show there were almost 192,300 people requiring the PUP this week – down by 9,800 in the week – as more businesses get up and running   

However, despite falling in the week, the latest numbers show the Covid-devastated business sectors of accommodation and food service, as well as retail, account for significant numbers of people.                

At 44,680, the number of people in accommodation and food service has fallen by about 3,000 in the week that outdoor dining reopened but still accounts for the single largest group by occupation.   

The number of people from wholesale and retail, which includes head office staff and car dealerships, is the second largest at 29,440 – but down by around 1,400 in the week. 

There are concerns the damage done to bricks and mortar retailing during the Covid crisis will be long lasting and that a significant number of retail workers will fail to return to jobs even when the crisis fully ends.   

The closure of the Arcadia and its Topshop and Dorothy Perkins outlets, as well as Debenhams and Carphone Warehouse were the most prominent casualties in Ireland during the crisis.     

Boom in online retailing

The boom in online retailing has been accelerated by the crisis to the benefit of huge selling platforms such as Amazon.                     

Gerry Light, general secretary of the Mandate trade union, said unions and employer groups and Government officials were working on ways to protect traditional bricks and mortar retailing.               

Any ways for retraining and offering other types of supports to those who have lost their jobs must be explored and utilised.

"It is about ensuring that people do not fall off a cliff that if they are not going back to their same jobs after Covid that their chances of securing employment is enhanced by ways of good retraining and reskilling," Mr Light said. 

Senior economist Jim Power said businesses are returning to something like normality with staff shortages in some sectors suggesting it will take time for people to be able to switch to other jobs.  

He said the economy had some way to go get back to functioning fully.             

"On retail, I would have most concerns that a lot of people will have to redeployed," Mr Power said.     

Wage subsidy scheme

The latest figures confirm there are significantly more people drawing down the wage-subsidy scheme than requiring the PUP. 

Revenue figures show there were 344,800 people across 34,400 employers availing of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, or EWSS, at the end of June. The most recent figures that cover the first three weeks of July show that 285,600 people required the EWSS. 

The total number on the EWSS, the PUP, and the live register – the standard measure of unemployment – means there are over 707,000 people relying on some form of jobs-related welfare payment this week.

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