Shop job numbers fell by nearly 60,000 in the final three months of last year, according to new figures.
The British Retail Consortium tracked the number of people employed in the sector in the quarter, compared with the same period the year before.
The 1.8% drop in shop workers was due to a combination of redundancies and retailers taking on fewer seasonal staff for the festive period.
The decline was less than 2.8% at the end of 2018.
However, 38% of retailers said they planned to hire fewer staff in the first three months of this year, up on the 29% a year ago.
Store openings at the end of 2019 also slowed rapidly.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “There were many challenges in 2019 – businesses had to contend with the repeated risk of no-deal Brexit , a general election and the ongoing transformation of the industry, leading to weak consumer demand.
“As a result, employment has suffered in retail, the UK’s largest private sector employer.
“Retailers may be investing heavily in their workers, through training and apprenticeships, but more could be done.
“The current inflexibility in the apprenticeship levy system means that much essential training is not covered, limiting the opportunities for many working in the industry.
“Moreover, it is worrying that the Government is standing by while tens of thousands of jobs are being lost.
“If the same was true in manufacturing or aviation, one can be sure that the Government would act.
“There are opportunities for action and the Government’s review of business rates could not come at a more crucial time.
“It is essential that they reform this broken system and rectify a tax that sees retail, which accounts for 5% of the economy, pay 25% of the burden.”
A Government spokesman said: “We recognise retail has had a challenging year and continue to work with the sector to identify pressures and steps to address them.
“This includes the delivery of the £1 billion Future High Streets Fund to support local areas in England to renew high streets and our review into business rates, as well as cutting business rates for small retailers by a third this year.”
The Mirror is spearheading the importance of town centres as part of our High Street Fightback campaign.
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