LONDON: Grocers and online retailers are hiring hundreds of thousands of workers to cope with a surge in demand as the industry booms during the coronavirus pandemic while many others fight for survival.

The hiring sprees — by companies including Walmart, which is looking for 150,000 staff, and Amazon, which wants 100,000 — bring some relief to the labour market as shutdowns imposed to contain the outbreak in several countries threaten mass redundancies across many sectors.

Store workers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers are particularly sought after, although many of the positions are temporary or contracted roles — such as the 300,000 being sought by Instacart, the grocery delivery service.

While some of the employment is aimed at filling shortages created by workers who can no longer attend for family or health reasons, it is also a response to a sharp rise in demand as customers turn to online shopping or panic-buying at supermarkets.

The plans signal an economic shift, in which some businesses will benefit from the upheaval.

“All the other stores are being closed,” said Craig Johnson, founder of the Customer Growth Partners consultancy, noting customers were increasingly reliant on big chains such as Walmart. “This is where people are going, not only for paper towels and toilet paper, but for any need.”

Companies looking for workers are being inundated with applications and are fast-tracking inductions. The Melbourne-based supermarket chain Coles said it had received 36,000 applications following a drive launched last week for 5,000 casual employees.

Some employers in sectors hardest hit by the restrictions on movement and socialising, such as bars and hotels, are encouraging their staff to look elsewhere for work.

The head of British pub chain Wetherspoons, Tim Martin, drew criticism on Tuesday after he suggested his employees should consider applying for work at supermarket group Tesco, which is recruiting 20,000 temporary staff. “If you’re offered a job at a supermarket, many of you will want to do that,” he said.

Mr Martin noted, however, that workers could also stay at home as the UK government has agreed to cover 80 per cent of pay for those affected by a national lockdown.

CVS, the US drugstore chain that owns health insurer Aetna, said many roles would be filled by staff at some of its corporate clients that have had to furlough employees, including hotel chains Hilton and Marriott. The retailer wants to fill 50,000 positions immediately.

In the latest sign of stockpiling, credit card data released by Commonwealth Bank of Australia showed food spending in the country was up 50 per cent in the week ending March 20, compared with the same seven-day period a year earlier. There has also been a 25 per cent rise in health spending, as households load up on pharmaceuticals.

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