German home improvement retailer Praktiker has introduced shorter working hours in a third of its stores as it seeks to cut costs in the economic downturn.

The retailer’s 90 worst-performing shops in its 260-strong estate will be affected. Staff will have their hours cut by 10 per cent in an attempt to stave off redundancies and store closures.

Each Praktiker shop employs between 40 and 80 staff. A Praktiker spokesman said it is “likely” that all employees in the 90 stores will be affected, meaning up to 7,200 staff will have their hours reduced.

The retailer said it has the backing of the government and unions, and that the German state would reimburse 6 per cent of the lost wages to affected employees, meaning staff will lose just 4 per cent of their pay.

The spokesman said: “This is the responsible way to go through this economic crisis. We can secure the employment of our staff this way. Other companies reduced their workforce. We won’t do this.”

The retailer said that for a store to qualify for shorter working hours, sales declines need to exceed a specified threshold that results in a “proven considerable temporary lack of work”.

Praktiker claims to be the “first German retail group to adopt such responsible measures to prepare for times of crisis”. It said: “With this step, Praktiker has taken precautions to secure the employment of all staff working at the stores and to avoid layoffs due to cyclical fluctuations.”

The scheme’s conditions will be monitored each month and Praktiker may implement shorter hours in more stores if it deems it necessary.

Retail Knowledge Bank senior partner Robert Clark said: “It’s a sign of difficult trading but Praktiker won’t be alone in that. With sales under severe pressure retailers have to take measures they might not have considered otherwise. It will be interesting to see if German rivals like Hornbach, which Kingfisher has a stake in, will follow suit."