Over three-quarters of retailers say they currently have staff in isolation due to Covid-19, with 33 per cent operating under limited trading hours.

The findings, conducted by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), identified that 50 per cent of businesses ranked ‘staff shortages’ as their number one challenge with ‘lack of customers’ and ‘supply chain/delivery issues’ next in line.

Theo Foukkare, Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) CEO, said the current situation is being driven by the isolation rules for close contacts and positive Covid cases.

“We have never experienced anything like this, and unfortunately the situation is only going to get worse in the months ahead. Our industry was already chasing on average two to three team members per store due to the lack of international visa students, so when you add the current isolation rules into the mix, it is a disaster.

“In a lot of cases, members are closing stores early as they simply cannot manage a full roster to maintain their standard hours of opening. Additionally, distribution suppliers are hit hard in their logistics and warehousing teams, which is flowing through to see OOS gaps more prevalent each and every day.”

While Foukkare welcomed the Federal and NSW, Vic, and Qld Governments’ decision to allow asymptomatic staff within the food supply space that test negative to return to work ahead of the seven-day isolation rule, he said it does absolutely nothing to assist frontline staff.

“The current relaxations will simply stock the cool rooms and warehouses of grocery retail, but not the shelves for consumers to purchase, and that if they want to stop panic buying the best way to achieve this is to give consumers confidence by having fully stocked shelves.”

Paul Zahra, ARA CEO, said it’s an ongoing juggling act for retailers and their rostering managing the current isolation requirements.

“Many retailers are having to limit trading hours or close stores altogether because they don’t have the staff available. For small businesses, a couple of cases can wipe out their entire workforce.”

Zahra repeated calls for the various levels of government to ensure free, immediate, and appropriate priority access to RAT kits for essential, frontline retail and distribution workers, along with an efficient and timely reporting mechanism for RATs for retail and distribution centre workers, preferably via state QR check-in systems.

“It’s important that all levels of government continue to work with industry to clear any impediments to getting people safely back to work and return domestic supply chains to a more sustainable footing.”

Zahra also called to immediately end requirements for reporting of test results to multiple agencies before employees are cleared to work, and to allow workers who test negative to return to the workforce as soon as practically possible.

“Whilst we expect supply chain challenges to linger for the rest of the year due to global pressures, we do expect this short-term congestion to ease in the coming weeks as Omicron cases hopefully peak and decline as predicted by the health authorities.”

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