Usdaw calls action to tackle the retail crisis and support workers facing automation


RETAIL and distribution trade union Usdaw has a delegation of reps and officials attending the 2023 Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) annual conference in Dundee, starting on Monday 17 April. The union is calling for action to promote a retail recovery plan, along with tackling the issues workers face as their jobs are impacted by new technology and automation.

Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw Regional Officer for Scotland, said: “We are deeply concerned that Scotland’s retail sector is facing its biggest crisis in decades. Low economic growth and high energy costs, combined with deep seated structural issues such as the non-domestic rates system, are creating significant economic pressures for retailers.

“These increased economic challenges are likely to damage the job security of retail workers and bring about increased pressure for cuts to terms and conditions. Many retail workers, who are already low paid, are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis with incomes being severely eroded by inflation.

“Usdaw has been closely involved in the Scottish Government’s industry leadership group for retail and I chair the working group that is developing a fair work agreement for retail. We now need to ensure swift and meaningful action from Government to help support the sector.”

Usdaw is calling for:

  • Immediate measures which would address the most urgent priorities facing the sector and its workforce as a result of the cost of living crisis.
  • A further long-term strategy that deals with the fundamental and structural challenges within the sector, in particular non-domestic rates which already stand at a 23 year high.
  • A coordinated approach to protect and create new jobs within the sector.
  • A new deal for workers as a key method of eradicating in-work poverty and tackling job insecurity.

Tracy Gilbert continued: “We also have concerns about the vast developments in workplace technology and automation in Scotland. Prior to the pandemic, it was predicted that automation could result in 230,000 job losses across Scotland during this decade. More recent figures highlight the acceleration in automation with an estimated nine in ten employees needing to retrain by 2030.

“The Flexible Workforce Development Fund offers an opportunity to deliver the skills necessary to adapt to these changes. However, it’s clear that in its current form, the Fund is failing to deliver quality apprenticeship and training programmes for workers.”

Usdaw is calling for the immediate implementation of the following provisions to ensure workers can retrain and take advantage of the future world of work:

  • Significant and long-term investment in skills funding, including coordination of skills and adult education budgets across Scotland.
  • Removal of the current single site restrictions and an increase to the cap placed on individual firms. Workers should have the same opportunity to access the Fund, irrespective of the size of their employer.
  • A review of the Retail Modern Apprenticeship to ensure a more agile and adult friendly system that fully supports adult apprenticeships.
  • Promote positive action to tackle under-representation, including calling on employers to report on what actions they are taking to promote inclusive training and skills provisions.
  • The development of robust sectoral plans to support skills development across the whole of Scotland.
  • Deliver a legal right to paid time off for retraining to encourage not just specialised skills such as data science, but greater overall digital literacy as well as broader skills development across the workforce.
  • Support a requirement under UK legislation for employers to consult on new technology, including the use of Equality Impact Assessments which employers must act upon.

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