The chief executive of Next, Lord Wolfson, has said that labour shortages could be solved by companies hiring overseas workers
Next has warned warehouse and logistics staffing is under pressure. Staff were not obtainable in the places needed and seasonal workers were difficult to recruit, Next chief executive Lord Wolfson told the BBC’s Today programme.
The comments are the latest in exchanges between the pro-Brexit Tory peer and chief Minister Boris Johnson.
Mr Johnson said that Lord Wolfson “doesn’t want any kind of control or restraint on the number of people that he can access from oversea to run his business”.
But in response, Lord Wolfson said this was “absolutely not” the case.
This comes after the chief Minister has denied the UK is in crisis as both labour shortages and supply issues continue to affect the nation. Amidst the shortages, the PM said that the economy was facing the “stresses and strains that you’d expect from a giant waking up” after the COVID-19.
Lord Wolfson suggested businesses could get visas for skills they “desperately need” and recommended that they should have to pay UK workers the same amount as overseas workers. To make this competitive, he argued businesses should have to pay a “visa tax on top – lets say 7% of wages”.
“We need to design a system that delivers the skills but at the same time makes sure UK workers are not deprived of opportunities that they might want”.
He additional that this solution would “ensure people are not being brought into the UK to undercut UK workers because they will always be more expensive and it provides the skills Britain desperately needs to keep its industry moving”.
He suggested that only UK businesses should be able to apply for these visas, instead of workers, and that it should not cost the employers more than recruiting in the UK.
At Next, Lord Wolfson said that warehouse wages had gone up by around 60% in the last 10 years and 70% for Christmas wages, and additional that “wages have already gone up considerably”.
But, he said the firm was nevertheless finding that there were not enough workers in particular areas who wanted to move for short periods of time.
Last week, Next warned of price rises and staff shortages before Christmas unless immigration rules were eased.
It also said higher shipping costs, particularly for larger furniture items, were pushing up its prices.
This comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak has suggested that he may have to introduce further tax rises on the public as the economy emerges from the global COVID-19 crisis, declaring that: “Our recovery comes with a cost.”
The company’s warning over possible staffing issues during the festive period was made in its half-year results, which showed that profit before tax was up by 5.9% compared to 2019.
The firm said rising shipping costs had pushed up prices by about 2%, with its larger home products “bearing the brunt of the increase”.
It additional that it expected prices to increase by an average 2.5% in the first half of next year, with homeware prices up 6%.
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