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Women 'bearing the brunt' of retail job losses


Lisa Wilson

Lisa Wilson

Lisa Wilson

Women are being hardest hit by a wave of job losses in retail, an economist has said, as yet another high street retailer collapsed into administration.

Bonmarche, owned by retail tycoon Philip Day, has around 10 stores in Northern Ireland.

RSM Restructuring Advisory, which has been appointed to handle the administration, said all Bonmarche's 225 stores UK-wide will remain open and there are no redundancies yet as it looks to agree a rescue deal. However, five Debenhams department stores here employing around 600 people are due to close down in the new year after attempts to find a buyer resulted in failure.

And Arcadia Group has now gone into administration, though its stores and concessions -which are thought to employ around 1,000 people in Northern Ireland - continue to trade.

The well-known retail names join other brands like Warehouse, Oasis, T.M. Lewin and Cath Kidston in facing severe difficulties in the pandemic, leading to some vanishing from the high street.

Economist Lisa Wilson of the Nevin Economic Research Institute (Neri) said women gravitated towards jobs in retail as they tended to offer part-time hours compatible with other responsibilities. Women would therefore "bear the brunt of the job losses".

The future of retail now required "serious policy attention and innovative thinking". "Neri has been highlighting how online shopping and changes in our spending habits has been affecting footfall on our high streets. The pandemic is now drastically accelerating this longer-term decline in retail."

But Neil Gibson, chief economist at business advisory firm EY, said retail staff would be in demand in the hospitality sector. "They have customer-facing skills and will be significantly in demand in those parts of the economy - hotels, restaurants and bars - which need good quality staff who can engage with the public.

"Retail has been a massive trainer of people and a provider of the skills which employers keep telling us they need.

"How many people are now desperate to be back socialising and enjoying arts, entertainment, leisure and culture? Retail workers have the transferable skills which will work for that sector."

But Ms Wilson said it was not clear that ex-retail workers would be happy to move into hospitality jobs, which entail unsociable hours and potentially "less enjoyable customer interactions".

"This shift to hospitality is very difficult for women with children in particular who very often just would not be able to work these more unsociable hours.

"And also - the quality of work at least in terms of wages and working hours are far superior in retail than they are in hospitality."

Belfast Telegraph