Fewer Christmas retail jobs on offer

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 09:11 30/11/2012

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Consumer electronics chain Dick Smith has rejected rumours it is slashing staff hours amid reports the retail sector is cutting back on Christmas casual workers.

Justin Waddell, regional manager for Dick Smith in the upper North Island, said the company had the same staff-to-sales budget as last year.

"We've just hired in the run-up to Christmas another 45 casuals and I guess if trade increases over December we may even hire more."

An anonymous letter to many media outlets from someone purporting to be a Dick Smith worker claimed staff levels have as much as halved in some stores, and seasonal workers had been left in the lurch.

It called the move a "kneejerk reaction" to the company's $8.9 million loss for the year to June.

"The cuts have already damaged company morale, with most staff scrambling to call other stores in hopes that they have spare hours and with some seeking employment elsewhere," the letter said.

Dick Smith's poor New Zealand result followed a $3.6m profit the year before but included a $10.4m impairment charge for store closures before its sale by Woolworths to Anchorage Capital Partners in September.

Anchorage Capital said only that it was "still very committed to New Zealand, with no changes to our expectation that there will be no further store closures. "We believe the New Zealand stores will play a vital role in the Dick Smith group and have excellent potential."

Maxine Gay, retail spokeswoman for FIRST Union, said she had not heard of any retailers pruning staff hours. But trading was flatter and there were fewer Christmas casual workers this year.

"Where [staff] would normally be banned from having leave, people are being told that 'if you want a day off to do your Christmas shopping, you can take some leave'."

Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson said he had not heard of retailers cutting back on staff this Christmas.

But it was clear stores were operating on much lower margins.

The retail sector had been making a net margin to sales of about 8 per cent (ex-supermarkets) only a few years ago.

"The problem we have now is that everybody is working on about 3 [per cent]. Margin is gone."

However, he was cautious optimistic about this Christmas shopping season.

"We're still expecting Christmas to deliver anywhere between 2 and 4 per cent improvement on last year.

"If you can do that on fewer people on the floor, then I suppose that's a choice you have to consider."

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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