Steven Deare
(Australian Associated Press)


A shortage of retail workers is hampering Australian businesses after lockdown and there are calls for overseas workers to fill the void.

National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said many members were struggling to find staff to resume regular trade and prepare for the Christmas rush.

“We absolutely have a skills shortage at this time. It’s proving to be getting worse,” she said.

A survey published this week showed job advertising across all industries reached a 13-year high in October. Retail leaders are sure their industry contributed greatly to the National Skills Commission figures.

Ms Lamb said many retail employers could not afford to retain workers during the most recent coronavirus lockdowns affecting the ACT, NSW and Victoria.

“We’ve seen retail workers become dissatisfied with the uncertainty,” she said.

“If you were not an essential retail worker, you still have to feed your family. These people have gone to other industries that are still able to trade or offer more consistency in work hours.”

The federal government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy, which helped employers retain workers, ended before the most recent lockdowns.

Cafes and restaurants makeup a sizeable part of the retail industry and have experienced the same problem.

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said reopening for many was bittersweet due to the staff shortage.

“There is a severe worker shortage in Australia and it needs urgent attention by the federal government,” he said.

He called for overseas workers to be allowed in to the country. Gaining Australian residency should also be made easier, Mr Lambert said.

“We are losing too many good workers to overseas markets,” he said.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said while international students and skilled migrants could return before Christmas, business would still struggle to fill all vacant casual positions.

McDonald’s Australia recently began its annual hiring spree before the Christmas holidays.

A spokeswoman said the company had been challenged by the labour shortages like many employers.

She said McDonald’s looked forward to regaining skilled, seasonal and overseas workers.

A representative for workers saw the problem differently.

Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan said the situation showed retail workers deserved better conditions.

“We haven’t got time for the crocodile tears of employers who dismissed workers during lockdown and now complain workers aren’t available,” he said.

He said some workers were choosing other industries such as disability support which did not have such as casualised workforce.