The number of hours worked in the grocery sector fell year-on-year over Christmas for the first time since 2008.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) - Bond Dickinson Retail Employment Monitor reported that the grocers managed a “muted” Christmas by cutting back on staffing levels.

Grocery retailer suffered what Sainsbury’s boss Justin King described as the “worst Christmas in my 30 years of retailing” as food like-for-likes fell 0.6% on average across the three months to December, according to the BRC.

Across food and non-food, the number of full-time jobs in the retail sector grew at its fastest rate in 18 months last quarter in a sign of rising confidence in the economy.

The monitor recorded a total 0.1% year-on-year increase in full-time equivalent jobs in the fourth quarter from October to December.

The monitor also revealed 42% of temporary contracts over the Christmas period were awarded to people aged under 21.

The number of outlets jumped 2% driven entirely by food retailers.

The intentions for the next quarter show that 54% of retailers intend to decrease staffing levels post-Christmas, a normal seasonal adjustment. However, this is up on last year when 50% of the sample planned to cut staffing levels.

Some 4% of retailers said they intend to increase staffing levels, consistent with last year, ad 42% aim to keep staffing levels unchanged.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “There were more people working in retail in December than any other month last year. And it is encouraging to see that again there was an increase in people in full time employment, demonstrating that confidence is rising, and an increase in the number of shops.

“In comparison to the same quarter in December 2012, there was a very small increase in total employment. We saw growth in non-food retail hours worked, and a slight falling back in food.”

Bond Dickinson head of retail employment Cristina Tolvas-Vincent said: “It was a Christmas of mixed fortunes however, and for the first time since 2008, the monitor recorded a fall in the number of hours worked within the grocery sector, revealing the impact of a comparably muted Christmas for food retailers on overtime and additional staffing levels.”