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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Overseas workers only way to solve shortages, says Next boss


Next chief executive Lord Wolfson has said labour shortages could be solved by companies hiring overseas workers and paying a “visa tax”.

Staff were not available in the places needed and seasonal workers were difficult to recruit, he told the BBC’s Today programme.

Next has warned warehouse and logistics staffing is under pressure.

The comments are the latest in exchanges between the pro-Brexit Tory peer and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson said Lord Wolfson “doesn’t want any kind of control or restraint on the number of people that he can access from abroad to run his business”.

But in response, Lord Wolfson said this was “absolutely not” the case.

Lord Wolfson suggested that businesses should be able to obtain visas for skills that they “desperately need,” and that they should be required to pay UK workers the same as overseas workers. To make this competitive, he argued that businesses should pay a “visa tax on top – say, 7% of wages.”

“We need to design a system that delivers skills while also ensuring that UK workers are not denied opportunities that they might want,” he said.

He went on to say that this solution “ensures that people are not 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 proposed that only UK businesses, not workers, be able to apply for these visas, and that it should not cost employers more than recruiting in the UK.

Following that, Lord Wolfson stated that warehouse wages had increased by around 60% in the last ten years, and Christmas wages had increased by 70%, and that “wages have already gone up significantly.”

However, he stated that the company was still finding that there were not enough workers in specific areas who wanted to move for short periods of time.

Price rises

Next warned last week that unless immigration rules are relaxed, it will face price increases and staff shortages before Christmas.

It also claimed that rising shipping costs, particularly for larger furniture items, were driving up its prices.

The company issued a warning about potential staffing issues during the holiday season in its half-year results, which showed a 5.9 percent increase in profit before tax compared to 2019.

Rising shipping costs, according to the company, have increased prices by about 2%, with its larger home products “bearing the brunt of the increase.”

It also predicted that prices would rise by an average of 2.5 percent in the first half of next year, with homeware prices rising by 6 percent.

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