Retailers in the Irish Republic have experienced their toughest-ever trading conditions this year, according to symbol group ADM Londis.

Speaking at the annual conference, group CEO Stephen O'Riordan said retail sales had fallen in value by some 20% from their market peak, while the collapse in credit had led to "extreme pressure" on retailers and consumers.

His gloomy message to the 300-plus delegates attending the conference in Galway was reinforced by the findings of a survey among Londis members.

Almost 90% felt conditions would not improve until the second quarter next year. Some 62% listed "intense competition" as the biggest challenge, followed by the increasing difficulty of retaining customers in the current economic climate. Other concerns were cashflow management and cost cutting.

Almost two-thirds of Londis retailers also called for the abolition of the joint labour committees, made up of union, employer and government representatives, that set wage levels for grocery.

O'Riordan supported these demands, urging government to address the needs of small business by abolishing "the inflationary joint labour committees", reducing local council charges and cutting the "excessive red tape".