Give retail workers better conditions before looking overseas - union

The industry faces crisis and collapse with major skill shortages.
The industry faces crisis and collapse with major skill shortages. Photo credit: Getty

A union has hit back at claims overseas workers are needed for retail vacancies, saying instead that Kiwis should be offered better working conditions.

It follows a retail expert warning the industry is likely to collapse if businesses don't get approval to look overseas for employees.

FIRST Union secretary for retail and finance Tali Williams said retail industry leaders should address problems with low pay and poor conditions before looking overseas.

"Retail work in New Zealand is predominantly characterised by low pay, underemployment and a lack of adequate staffing causing stressed staff and unhappy customers," she said.

There are 57,000 job openings predicted for Auckland alone by 2021. Industry training organisation Service IQ is launching an action plan on Wednesday to tackle the impending crisis.

Massey University's Jonathan Elm says there are not enough jobs seekers here to fill the gaps.

"We're now getting to a point where we need to look quite proactively at what's going on overseas, what talent's available overseas to bring them home to New Zealand," he says.

Mr Elm says severe shortages are putting the entire sector at risk and sitting back is not an option.

"Retailers are some of the biggest employers in the country. Small retailers are the backbone of the economy," he says.

"They pay an awful amount of tax. They employ an awful amount of people."

Mr Elm says some retail jobs must be added to immigration skills shortage lists.

Ms Williams says the real problem is that retail employers pay some of the lowest wages in the country.

"Many retail workers are on minimum wage or close to it. If retail employers would like to attract people into retail roles to avert this crisis then I suggest the first thing they do is look at their wage rates and start paying workers a living wage," she said.

"They should also look at the amount of hours they are offering staff and whether people can survive on those amounts of hours."