The BRC said yesterday that 78,000 retail jobs were lost as minimum wage increases added£1.2 billion to retailers' wage bills last year. This year's increase, due on October 1, will add another£1.5 billion to retailers' costs, claims the BRC, thus threatening more jobs.
But, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett believes the opposite is true. 'Traditionally jobs in retail were poorly paid, but having a legally enforceable minimum wage totally transformed that picture, pushing pay levels up, so more and more people are taking jobs in retailing,' he said.
The union cited research by Labour Market Trends, which found that employment in retail jumped up by 23,000 in the 12 months to October of last year, as proof that employment in the sector is not declining.
Hannett added: 'The reality is most retailers are comfortable with the rise in the national minimum wage, because all the research shows that well paid staff have higher levels of motivation, less absenteeism and stores have better staff retention.'
However, BRC Director General Kevin Hawkins argues: 'Retailers tell us they are being expected to find 2.7 billion pounds extra for wages over just two years. With other costs, including energy prices, rent, rates and service charges shooting up, it's no surprise so many retailers are cutting staffing costs by employing fewer people.'
Usdaw is making a submission to the Low Pay Commission, who advises the Government on the level of the national minimum wage, arguing for further increases to pay.