The retail sector says EU nationals must be allowed to continue working in the UK freely after Brexit, or shoppers could face rising prices and slower deliveries.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) sounded the warning after its annual workforce survey highlighted concern among its members over the future of employees from EU nations.
It said 22% of firms had already reported staff returning to the continent amid uncertainty over their future in the UK.
EU nationals make up 6% of the retail sector’s workforce. That is 170,000 people.
If they were to go, the BRC said, it would spark shortages in warehouse and distribution work in particular.
This could affect consumers “from the service delivered in a store to next day delivery of an online order, from the latest developments for your mobile phone to the prices of what you buy“, the BRC said.
The lobby group argued prices – already higher because of the Brexit-linked fall in the value of the pound – were likely to go up further because companies would have to scramble to replace the staff and their skill sets.
Uncertainty over the Brexit deal has been a source of frustration for UK industry ever since the Leave win was announced following the referendum of June 2016.
The BRC’s wish-list includes greater Government investment in skills and giving the sector access to non-graduate EU labour in a “demand-led” immigration system that does not require employer sponsorship.
Its chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said: “The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created uncertainty, not only for business, but for the people from the EU they employ.
“These are real people with families, livelihoods and homes in this country.
“It is not right that 16 months after the referendum these people still don’t have the security they need to continue their lives.
“And from our data it is clear that unless we have the right structures in place to support retailers attract, recruit and retain workers, consumers will soon start to see and feel an impact as they shop.”