Retailers hit by Covid-related staff shortages

Retailers share details of how they have been directly affected by staff shortages as the Omicron variant surges



11 January 2022

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Covid-related staff shortages have led to a quarter of retail staff being forced to close for a period of time in recent weeks, according to a survey by Retail Excellence.

As a result of the highly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant, Duncan Graham, MD of Retail Excellence, said many of its members were operating with a “skeleton staff” as upwards of 20% of employees were off work due to Covid-related issues.

“About 25% said they had been forced to close for a period of time, which could be shorter hours or closing for a full day or something,” Graham said.

“If things don’t improve, 50% said they would anticipate having to close for a period of time in the coming weeks.”

Describing the situation as another blow for businesses, particularly smaller ones, Graham said the problems were occurring “primarily” as a result of the close contact isolation rules, and if they were eased in some way then the situation would improve.

“Clearly there are people who are off because they contracted the virus, but it’s the close contact rules that are causing the biggest problem.”

Supermarkets affected

Wexford People reported earlier today that Pettitt’s SuperValu will keep its Key West branch closed due to Covid-related staff shortages.

The paper reported that Pettitts SuperValu supermarket on the Quay in Wexford has been closed since New Year’s weekend and will remain out of operation this coming week, due to staff shortages caused by the recent massive surge in Covid cases.

Pettitt’s St Aidan’s store manager Nicky Byrne said a decision was taken to adapt the service provided to customers as a result of some 40 staff members in total between the two stores being unable to attend work in recent weeks due to contracting coronavirus infection or becoming household or close contacts following the Christmas break.

“There were significant absences across the stores and we had to adapt,” he said. “We wanted to ensure a level and quality of service. It was decided to close the Quay and we have had to restrict opening hours a little by changing the trading hours in St. Aidan’s, which is closing at 8 p.m. at night instead of 10 p.m.”

The quay supermarket closure will continue this week, with an expectation that it will reopen next week, with the group continuing to monitor the situation.

“One of the main things I would like to highlight is how brilliant the staff have been,” Byrne said. They have to be commended. We have an amazing team of people who have been so resilient throughout all of this.

“Everyone has been there to help each other and lean on one another for support during a difficult time. They have been doing everything they can to keep the store trading.”

He also thanked customers for their support. “Everyone understands that there is an issue with regard to staffing levels.”

Meanwhile, Liam Ryan is the owner of the Ryan’s SuperValu group in Cork, and operates three stores in Cork and one in Limerick.

He told The Pat Kenny Show last week that 102 staff were absent on just one day alone (Wednesday, 5 January).

He explained: “We’ve learned to cope over the last 21 months… our regular staff have stepped up to the plate and have done a wonderful job. But since Christmas, we’ve had a particular issue with the new variant.

“We are trying to take a positive outlook. The number of close contacts seems to have settled and staff whose isolating period is over are coming back.”

Liam Ryan said the staff are doing a “fantastic job” covering other jobs wherever possible, but they are under “great pressure”.

“Yesterday, we had 102 staff missing – either directly through Covid or as close contacts,” he said, speaking on Wednesday, 5 January. “That has improved this morning – we’re down to 91 people out.”

The business has made temporary adjustments in response to the current situation – including earlier closing times for one store on several days last week.

“We as a SuperValu group have specialists such as butchers and bakers… one store has a particular issue, in that two butchers are out,” he said. “Because we’re a group, we’re able to manage staff and fill in the [gaps].”

Ryan believes there will be staffing issues for the next 3-4 weeks before the current wave ‘tapers off’, but hopes they’ll “be back on track” by the end of January.

He also called for clarity on isolation requirements.

“We’d like to know when [staff] will be back and what’s the criteria for why they’re out,” he said. “I think the Government needs to clarify that point for us.”



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