Retail labour shortage reaches record high across Australia

New figures from the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have shown the scale of the labour shortage crisis crippling the retail industry, including petrol and convenience (P&C).

The figures showed there were 40,300 job vacancies in retail trade in May – an increase of 11,200 or 38.5 per cent compared to February this year.

Theo Foukkare, CEO, Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), said the labour shortage is being felt right across Australia across both the retail and manufacturer community.

“It is estimated that our retail members are currently seeking approximately 12,000 to 15,000 staff to fill all types of files from site managers, console operators, baristas, and night staff. Our labour force relies on international students and travelling holiday tourists to fill around 30 per cent of roles.

“While we have seen some overseas students already in Australia utilise the flexibility provided by the previous federal governments relaxing of working hours (from 20 hours per week to 40 hours per week), we simply haven’t seen the overseas migration return to pre pandemic levels,” explains Foukkare.

“Additionally, the entire business community is suffering labour shortages, so it is a much more competitive environment to simply employ staff – we are all looking for staff at the same time. Whether you are a retailer, manufacturer, restauranteur, or hospitality operator, we are all struggling.

“Some of our members when advertising new roles are receiving almost no applications, something that is unprecedented. We don’t necessarily need skilled workers, what we need is people to show up and affiliate customer service roles to maintain our operations.”

Foukkare highlighted that he believes that the overseas migration recovery will take up to two years to return to normal.

“Australia is no longer the destination of choice for overseas students as many countries opened their borders long before we did, and they have continued their study in countries like Canada, where permanent residency is much easier.

“The Federal and State Governments, while working hard to attract overseas workers back, need to look at new incentives to accelerate the migration back into Australia.”

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said retail trade recorded the highest increase in job vacancies of any industry, highlighting the urgent need for federal and state government action.

“Exacerbated by overseas and student workers missing from our economy, staff shortages along with rising business costs related to leasing, fuel, energy, and supply chains, is pushing many small businesses to the brink. We need to see some immediate practical solutions from government, otherwise this situation will only deteriorate.

“We continue to call for a review of employment income as part of the age pension income test. This would mobilise a willing and able cohort of workers and allow pensioners to supplement their income and work more hours.

“We also need to see reduced red tape around immigration so we can get more skilled foreign workers into the country, along with more international students. Unfortunately, Australia’s brand has been damaged due to the Covid lockdowns from the past two years, and many foreign workers no longer see us as an attractive option to live and work.

“Accelerated training solutions are also important, and we’re continuing discussions with states and territories on how we can quickly mobilise other important workforce cohorts, including return to work parents and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.”

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