An increasing number of convenience store owners are putting their health at risk by working longer and harder in a bid to keep employment costs under control.

Just over 40% of convenience store owners have laid off or failed to replace staff in the past 12 months because of the pressure of employment and business costs, a survey of Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) members has found.

In addition, 50% of convenience store owners had reduced staffing hours in the past 12 months, while 52% had been forced to reduce the wage differentials between junior and supervisory staff.

The ACS has submitted the findings to the Low Pay Commission, with the hope that it will recommend that the government freeze the National Minimum Wage rate in 2011. 

The submission comes just two weeks before the 2010 NMW increases on October 1 – when the adult hourly rate will rise from £5.80 to £5.93. 

Jill White, owner of Little Stour Farm Shop in Wingham, Kent, said she was already struggling to bear the load.

“I recently took the decision to stop employing anybody full time as I could no longer afford the wages on top of all the other business costs. I now only have a couple of students who work a few hours a week and I do all the rest myself. 

“I am working harder and longer than ever before, for nothing. It’s incredibly stressful and upsetting.”

Further wage increases could also put the sector’s long-term future at risk, said ACS chief executive James Lowman. “Employment costs are the largest outgoing for retailers, representing an average 12% of their turnover. Another increase in National Minimum Wage would not be conducive to supporting employment within our sector or nationally,” he said.

The ACS survey also found that 50% of retailers believed they had been rendered less competitive by recent increases.