Covid Scotland: Businesses continue to feel impact of staff absences

Businesses in Scotland continue to feel the impact of staff absences, despite rates being much better than during the peak of the first Omicron wave in January.

Trains have been cancelled and pubs and restaurants have been forced to limit opening hours, as Scotland faces the highest levels of Covid infection on record.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Organisation (SLTA) said staff absences were still “very much” affecting venues, with some forced to close at times when staffing is particularly short.

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Staff illness and isolation has exacerbated other staffing shortages within the sector, said spokesperson Paul Waterson.

Photo by HOLLIE ADAMS/AFP via Getty Images
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"A lot of operators are talking about the fact that they are missing staff,” he said.

"That’s throughout the country, but it’s particularly bad in rural areas where it’s not as easy to get people to cover. In towns and cities there are more people to call on.”

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He added: “It’s quite difficult if you’ve got functions and events and staff are calling in sick. The public usually understand, the majority of people are very good about it, but sometimes it can be quite difficult.”

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The Scottish Retail Consortium said higher rates of absence continue, but the situation is much better than it was around Christmas.

"Retailers continue to see higher than normal levels of staff absences as a consequence of the Covid pandemic,” said head of policy Ewan MacDonald-Russell.

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"At this time these are manageable and are only having a limited impact on operations.”

ScotRail said the most recent figures showed 251 staff members absent for Covid-related reasons, compared to over 450 at the peak in January.

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Some 17 out of 2,000 trains were cancelled or amended due to staff absence on Monday.

TransPennine Express said it continues to run an amended timetable in Scotland that was introduced earlier in the Omicron wave due to high levels of staff sickness.

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LNER has been running a full timetable since February 14.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said small employers across Scotland continue to face problems with staff shortages due to Covid, including in firms where employees work from home.

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“Independent and local businesses generally have a strong relationship with their employees, and will want to protect their health as well as the health of their customers, but the scale of absences at the moment continues to cause difficulties for firms facing a host of other pressures,” said policy chair Andrew McRae.

The most recent figures from the Scottish Government show from February 21 to March 6, some 38 per cent of businesses reported staffing shortages. This figure was 48 per cent in the accommodation and food services industry, 47 per cent in construction and 41 per cent in transport and shortage.

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Some 67 per cent of firms said this had resulted in employees working increased hours, while a third of businesses said they had been unable to meet demands due to a shortage of workers.

In the previous two weeks 32 per cent of businesses reported shortages, rising to 40 per cent in the transport and storage industries, 37 per cent in construction and 36 per cent in accommodation and food services.

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