HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin pointed out that HTA consultation responses, sent to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, said extending garden centres' current six hours of Sunday trading would help the rural economy and give more choice to consumers.
Easter Sunday trading, currently outlawed, is outside the scope of the consultation but the HTA mentioned that as a seasonal industry garden retail wants to bring the subject to the Government's attention. Extensions to Sunday trading could happen in 2016 at the earliest. Curtis-Machin said current legislation is "outdated".
Zero-hours contracts, which surveys say are increasing (see box), are part of the same issue - horticultural employers wanting flexibility to run their businesses. The contracts, which fail to guarantee a set number of hours work and are under pressure in several quarters, are not used in horticulture to "keep wages down", said Curtis-Machin, but they suit the industry's seasonality.
Garden Centre Association chief executive Iain Wylie: "Zero-hours contracts have a place but aren't a total solution." Garden centres use them more than most retailers because of the industry's seasonality, he explained, adding that they suit students employed at garden centres during holidays.
Curtis-Machin said the national living wage remains more of a cause for "concern" to the industry. The HTA is trying to use the negative impact of the living wage to argue its case in areas such as Sunday trading hours in talks with Government.
Wylie said the living wage would hit some areas of the country harder than others and pushing up base rates would drive up rates for more experienced staff. This could lead to a "vicious circle" where retailers put prices up to maintain net profit and this would make the cost of living higher, so the extra wages would not go any further. He said garden centres "would have to look at the best way to recoup" higher costs.
Zero-hours Increase in number of employees on such contracts
The Office for National Statistics has found there were 744,000 people on a zero-hours contract in their main job, as reported to the Labour Force Survey for April-June 2015. This equates to 2.4 per cent of all people in employment. The latest estimate for employees on a zero-hours contract is an increase from the 624,000 people reported at the same time last year. Living wage think tank the Resolution Foundation said six million people will get a pay rise by 2020 because of the policy. Some 2.8 million will benefit from a ripple effect as employers maintain pay gaps. It will start at £7.20 an hour and rise to £9 by 2020, replacing the £6.50 National Minimum Wage.