Extended school holidays could force some shops to close

Extended school holidays could force some shops to close
The staff shortages are expected to hit both food and retail stores. Credit: Belga

Retail stores and supermarkets are concerned that they will face closures during the busiest time of year due to staff shortages resulting from the government’s decision to close schools one week earlier to curb coronavirus infections.

During the last Consultative Committee, it was announced that the Christmas holidays will start one week early on Saturday 18 December for children in kindergartens and primary schools. This has resulted in parents scrambling to find solutions for childcare during this period or taking temporary unemployment to take care of their children themselves.

This measure and its fallout will further exacerbate the existing staff shortages seen in a lot of sectors, with some businesses fearing that they might be forced to close, according to reports from De Standaard.

These concerns were reflected in a survey by the federation of the retail sector, Comeos, which showed that this will be a difficult period for many shops.

Measures to minimise impact

Comeos’ CEO Dominique Michel has called for two types of measures to ensure shops can remain open. Firstly, he strongly proposed a limited form of at-school childcare for children whose parents work in essential shops. At the moment, this measure is only in place for children of health care workers.

Comeos also argued that the last week before the holidays, which for secondary school pupils usually only consists of collecting rapport cards, should be considered an official holiday week so that students can work the whole day. Under the current system they could only work from 4:00 PM onwards, as this week is seen as a regular school week.

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Meanwhile, the socialist trade union BBTK reported that employees in shops are asking for temporary flex-workers to be hired. Michel urges companies to take action and to draw up some kind of shutdown plan.

The fallout of this measure is expected to impact both small and large retail chain stores. According to BBTK’s secretary Jasmien Durnez, Primark on the Meir highstreet in Antwerp employs 300 people, but many of them are single mothers who work part-time to be able to take care of their children. Durnez worries that retailers such as this could be under serious pressure once school holidays begin.

It is feared that smaller and local non-food shops will struggle to remain open. With lower staff numbers, the absence of just a few members will be felt acutely.

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