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Kmart, Officeworks flag worrying staff shortages ahead of key Christmas period


Officeworks and Kmart are among the retailers stuggling to secure staff ahead of the Christmas trading surge. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone.
Officeworks and Kmart are among the retailers stuggling to secure staff ahead of the Christmas trading surge. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone.

Retail giants Kmart and Officeworks have admitted being stretched for staff ahead of the Christmas trading surge, with international border closures blocking the recruitment of students and travellers that have been relied upon in the past.

A year-ending retail surge is tipped over the next few weeks after a 12 months blighted by lockdowns, with spending during the key retail period of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas expected to jump by billions of dollars.

Gone are the international students and travellers usually relied upon to fill casual positions during the Christmas rush, while a wider labour market upheaval has seen workers engage in some post-pandemic soul searching. Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images
Gone are the international students and travellers usually relied upon to fill casual positions during the Christmas rush, while a wider labour market upheaval has seen workers engage in some post-pandemic soul searching. Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images

But a couple Wesfarmers’ major retail players are scrambling to ensure there’s enough staff to handle the surge and avoid a drop in service levels.

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Kmart told the Sydney Morning Herald this week that for the first time in its history it was facing a staff shortage at Christmas, with more than 2500 positions needed across 179 stores.

Officeworks said while its own situation was not as severe, it was still feeling the pinch as the retail sector finds itself at the centre of several converging pressures.

Gone are the international students and travellers usually relied upon to fill casual positions during the Christmas rush, while a wider labour market upheaval has seen workers engage in some post-pandemic soul searching.

Retail tsar Paul Zahra sails the sector is facing a ‘perfect storm’, with an estimated $60bn on the line over the next six weeks. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone
Retail tsar Paul Zahra sails the sector is facing a ‘perfect storm’, with an estimated $60bn on the line over the next six weeks. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone

This trend – the so-called Great Resignation – has seen many people reassess their lives and move locations and jobs as they emerge from lockdown, forcing many businesses to improve conditions and wages in an attempt to hold on to staff in a hyper-competitive hiring market.

In the US, this has led to several retailers and food businesses having to close their doors due to a lack of available staff.

Further complicating the situation in Australia is a pandemic-driven shortage of shipping containers and huge backlogs at international ports, which has created a major supply chain crunch and led to significant delays on stock and transport.

A couple Wesfarmers’ major retail players are scrambling to ensure there’s enough staff to handle the Christmas surge and avoid a drop in in-store service levels. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dean Martin
A couple Wesfarmers’ major retail players are scrambling to ensure there’s enough staff to handle the Christmas surge and avoid a drop in in-store service levels. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dean Martin

No-frills retailer Best & Less this week told investors its own stocking situation was in hand, but added that it expected the constant warnings around stock shortages and delays to drive more people to click-and-collect and drop by in-store.

Meanwhile, retail tsar Paul Zahra said the sector was facing a ‘perfect storm’ with an estimated $60bn spending on the line over the next six weeks.

“Businesses are having to compete much harder to recruit and retain staff, and many are tackling this head on through innovative hiring solutions,” the Australian Retail Association boss told QSR Media last month.

“As a sector, we need to ensure we have the right targeted programs around skills and retraining, and importantly, remove barriers for women looking to re-enter the workforce, and that involves better access to childcare. “

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