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covid costs Retail opening hours to be hit as shops scramble to replace workers who 'moved on'

Dundrum Town Centre needs close to 1,000 workers as business owners struggle to fill jobs

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Barber Sam Donnelly pictured at his shop on Dame Lane in Dublin which has been closed since Christmas Eve. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Barber Sam Donnelly pictured at his shop on Dame Lane in Dublin which has been closed since Christmas Eve. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Barber Sam Donnelly pictured at his shop on Dame Lane in Dublin which has been closed since Christmas Eve. Photo: Gerry Mooney

OPENING hours will be hit as retailers scramble for staff ahead of Monday's reopening.

Despite almost 400,000 people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), many employers have found it difficult to hire staff since the announcement that the lockdown will lift.

The country's largest shopping centre in Dundrum has between 500 and 1,000 vacancies. Centre director at Dundrum Town Centre, Don Nugent, said some stores will not be able to stay open until 9pm for a few weeks, until they are fully staffed.

The phased reopening of non-essential retail begins this Monday with click and collect, before ramping up to include all remaining shops on May 17.

Hairdressers and barbers are also due to open on Monday.

"The two most challenging issues are recruitment and getting the product in, ready on time to reopen," Mr Nugent said.

"People have been a long time out of their jobs and their workplace, and we anticipated that many would have moved on, changed career or left to go to another company.

"It's also the short time frame. If the tenants had a month, they would be in a much more comfortable position."

He said normally if a new tenant is opening at the shopping centre, which had a workforce of roughly 5,500 pre-Covid, they had three months to recruit. Now, it's just a couple of weeks.

"Our estimation of 500 jobs on offer in Dundrum is probably conservative," he said.

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Keith Kenny, group retail manager of Dubarry of Ireland prepares to reopen its College Green premises. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Keith Kenny, group retail manager of Dubarry of Ireland prepares to reopen its College Green premises. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Keith Kenny, group retail manager of Dubarry of Ireland prepares to reopen its College Green premises. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"If you include full-time and part-time, it could be 800 or 1,000.

"I spoke to two tenants this morning and they're both looking for 30 people.

"It could change dramatically over the coming weeks when we are up and running again and people realise the PUP isn't going to be forever."

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Some employers said staff had moved into more secure sectors, returned to education, or decided to care for children full-time, while some non-nationals had returned home.

Others have claimed some workers do not want to come off the PUP.

When asked if there were concerns about PUP rates, which are higher than normal dole, the Department of Social Protection said it has set up an employer reporting facility.

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Keith Kenny, group retail manager of Dubarry of Ireland prepares to reopen its College Green premises. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Keith Kenny, group retail manager of Dubarry of Ireland prepares to reopen its College Green premises. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Keith Kenny, group retail manager of Dubarry of Ireland prepares to reopen its College Green premises. Photo: Steve Humphreys

It said this is to enable employers to report staff who are not willing to return to work while continuing to claim PUP.

More than 3,000 cases were investigated, but the vast majority did not involve misclaiming.

"We would nevertheless encourage employers to continue to submit details to us where they come across reluctance of staff to return to work," the spokesperson said.

Retailers are anxious to open for longer because there is expected to be huge pent-up demand from shoppers in the coming weeks.

As partial reopening takes place this week, customers can book slots to visit stores including Penneys, Brown Thomas, and Arnotts.

But some retailers have struggled to recruit staff.

Group retail manager at Dubarry of Ireland, Keith Kenny, said he advertised roles in March but got little traction.

"We're putting the ads up again this week and now there is a date on the horizon, we hope it will reinvigorate people to start looking again," Mr Kenny said.

"They may think about what it gives them in terms of their social life once the see the city waking up again.

"Our staff last year were willing to sit it out and come back, but when we closed in January again, totally understandably they started looking for secure options."

Penneys recently encouraged laid-off Carphone Warehouse workers to get in touch to fill vacancies in its stores and head office.

However, a spokesperson said it did not have difficulty hiring in recent weeks and has recruited extra temporary retail assistants.

Meanwhile, Sam Donnelly of Sam's Barbers claimed that those who pay cash-in-hand are aggressively poaching staff.

"It's an employees' world at the moment, and it's across the whole grooming industry," he said.

"I'm down around five barbers. Over the course of the last 14 months, the black-market economy has boomed.

"Now we're finding when reopening that there is a huge problem that people are not wanting to come back to work full-time."

Richard Guiney of Dublin Town said recruitment was a big issue in retail and hospitality and staff had switched to telecentre and office jobs.

"You can't blame people for taking other roles. They've been out of work for quite some time," he said.

The owner of White Moose café in Dublin, Paul Stenson, recently came under fire after asking in a tweet why anyone would want to work in hospitality "when they can get a sizeable pandemic unemployment payment for sitting on their h*le watching Netflix".

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