The majority of small businesses in the province are taking a cut in profits in a bid to meet the latest rise in the National Living Wage (NLW) it has been claimed.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says its research indicates that 64% of firms small businesses impacted by the have stretched to meet the latest rise by taking lower profits.
Two in five (39%) businesses affected have put up prices to cope with the latest increase to £7.50 per hour, while a further quarter (24%) have cancelled or scaled down their investment plans, and a fifth have reduced staff hours (22%) or hired fewer workers (19%).
FSB’s research also suggests the faster rising NLW has not had the effect of increasing demand for younger workers. Less than 4% of small businesses responded to the NLW increase by hiring more workers under the age of 25, who are on a lower rate.
It comes as business operating costs have surged to their highest in four years, according to FSB’s latest Small Business Index.
The research shows the majority are already paying their staff above the new NLW. But there are significant pressures on the 43% that have had to increase their wages in line with the NLW. Sectors facing the greatest squeeze are those with tight margins where wages are typically lower, such as retail, care and hospitality and accommodation businesses.
“Small businesses owners have demonstrated their resilience in meeting the challenge set by the National Living Wage, with many cutting their margins, or even paying themselves less, to pay their staff more,” said FSB NI policy chair Wilfred Mitchell.
“In sectors where margins are tight, small firms are resorting to more drastic measures to cope with the NLW.
“Therefore it is vital that the NLW is set at a level that the economy can afford, without job losses or harming job creation.”
In light of the recent string of poor economic statistics and continued uncertainty, FSB has urged the Low Pay Commission to consider whether the Government’s 2020 NLW target may need to be delayed if the economy cannot bear the rapid pace of increases.
The NLW is currently projected to rise to £8.75 by 2020.
FSB says any risk to the economy should be built into the next increase scheduled for April 2018 and has recommended it rise no higher than £7.85 in 2018.
“Cost pressures on small businesses are building, and with most recent economic indicators underperforming, we are now facing the reality that the NLW target may need to be delayed beyond 2020,” said Mr Mitchell.
“To prevent the growing costs of employment from stunting job creation, the Government should use its Autumn Budget to uprate the Employment Allowance and focus it on the smallest employers.”