Chief Executive's Blog: Addressing Employment Challenges

We’re asking for your help in completing our National Living Wage survey and I hope and expect we’ll get a strong response from retailers because it’s the biggest financial issue facing our sector.  How do we cope with our biggest cost rising by over 4% per year, above inflation and the growth rates in this (and pretty much any) sector?  We really need to hear from you about the impact on your business.

We’ve also just analysed the results of our colleague survey, with nearly four thousand of the people working in our sector telling us more about their work and how it fits into their lives and careers.  Thinking about these two important pieces of research has made me realise how we need to explain to government and to the outside world the full picture of employment in our sector.  Extrapolating the micro-economic data on jobs, hours and pay is essential, but there are broader issues at play here.

The profile of our colleagues in store is actually pretty stable and fits with our Local Shop Report data: two-thirds of convenience store employees are female, and we employ across all age groups.

But there are also some findings that challenge established assumptions.  Yes, we have to cope with some turnover of staff, but there are more people who have worked in our businesses for more than five years than there are people who have worked for less than a year.  Yes, many employees contribute the second income to their household, but for more staff their convenience store wage is the only or largest income in their household.  And yes, some people combine working in a convenience store with other jobs, but for the vast majority it’s their only employment.  Perhaps this last misconception is based on the assumption that people juggle working in a convenience store with other responsibilities.  That’s true, but it mainly takes the form of caring for children, grandchildren and older family members, rather than other paid jobs.

What comes through loud and clear from the research is that just as we are the local shops for our customers, so we are for our colleagues.  It takes the average convenience store employee just thirteen minutes to get to work, incurring a daily travel cost of £1.63.  In fact a growing majority of colleagues walk to work.

This all matters most when we think about the upcoming deliberations of the Low Pay Commission, and the wider political debate about wages.  It paints a picture of local, accessible work for people who need that income and the legal benefits of employment, and who value the flexibility offered by working shifts that can fit around their lives.  Convenience stores offer employees many of the advantages of a gig economy, without the insecurity.   

These are the jobs that we should be promoting and supporting, and the significant decline in jobs in our sector over the past two years should concern policy-makers.  Where have the 37,000 people who worked in our sector in 2015, but who no longer do, gone?  Some may have moved into other rewarding roles in retail or elsewhere, some may no longer require seasonal or part-time work after having graduated or fully retired, but others will be working in less secure, less well-supported and (once true income is calculated) lower paid roles.

We shouldn’t demonise new working models, and we certainly shouldn’t decry the changes that technology is driving in our economy and society, but we should celebrate the value of the 370,000 jobs offered in local shops, and urge the Low Pay Commission and other policy-makers to ensure that good employers in this sector aren’t forced to make further job cuts in order to stay in business.

This entry was posted by Chloe on Tue, 24/04/2018 - 15:18