Shortage of labour ‘could lead to closure of stores’

JERSEY’S biggest retailer has warned it could be forced to temporarily close stores unless urgent action is taken to tackle the labour crisis.

SandpiperCI operates a number of stores in Liberty Wharf.
SandpiperCI operates a number of stores in Liberty Wharf.

SandpiperCI – which operates outlets including Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Matalan – has already reduced opening hours at some its stores, as it struggles with 61 Jersey staff vacancies – six times its usual figure. And now Mike Rutter, the company’s retail managing director, has warned that if the situation worsens there would be ‘short-term store closures’.

Mr Rutter said: ‘It’s not that we aren’t doing everything we possibly can to recruit people – we are putting more effort into it all the time – the reality is that there is no one to recruit. The labour pool is empty.’

He said that it could be 18 months to two years before the staffing levels returned to ‘some form of normality’ and added: ‘At the moment we are able to manage it through reductions in [opening] hours, which of course puts extra strain on our existing teams. The current trend is for it to get worse, and if we are not careful we will start to see additional store [opening] hours coming out of some sites.

‘If it continues to get worse – and of course this is a situation I hope can be avoided – we will end up with short-term store closures of maybe a day here and a day there.’

Mr Rutter said there seemed to be a focus on staff shortages within the hospitality industry, but contended that retail was dealing with ‘a similar issue’.

He added that moving resources across to hospitality could create an ‘unintentional consequence’ of increased pressure for other sectors.

‘What is required is a solution that helps support all of the industries that are fishing in this pool for labour, which is currently empty,’ he said.

Asked when the temporary closures would need to be implemented, he said: ‘It’s not going to happen next week, and we will always keep stores open for as long as we can.

‘I would suggest that, unless there is an increase in the labour pool available to us, the ongoing trend will bring that to a head in time – but it’s difficult to say how far away it would be.’

He pointed to Covid and Brexit as the ‘two leading causes’ driving the problem.

‘As a result of those [issues], a number of people have returned to their home countries or back to the UK perhaps, and what we have found is that some of those individuals have not come back to the Island,’ he said.

The fallout from staffing shortages and supply chain disruptions has been felt by a number of sectors, with petrol retailers in the UK among the latest to be hit.

Lee Madden, the managing director of GR8 Employment Solutions, previously estimated that between 2,500 and 2,800 people – across Guernsey and Jersey – had left the hospitality industry last year.

Mr Rutter said: ‘Inevitably something has to happen around bringing additional people to the Island to work [in] these roles. The labour isn’t here, and if it isn’t here then it needs to be brought in.’

He added: ‘Of course we want to employ local people too, and we continually run recruitment events every two weeks in order to bring new people into our business – but there aren’t enough people here currently to fill all these vacancies.’

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