Fears are mounting that grocery retailers will have to dramatically scale back on the usual temporary staff recruitment drive this Christmas as the economy dips into recession.

This week, a Manpower survey revealed that 13% of retailers expected to make job cuts in the last quarter of 2008. Just 8% expect to increase staff compared to 12% last year, prompting the speculation that there would be fewer seasonal jobs created over Christmas than in previous years.

“Employers have faced difficult times since the credit crunch and wider economic and confidence worries really took effect last year,” said Mark Cahill, MD of Manpower UK. “This uncertainty is being reflected by new ­recruitment plans being put on hold and with slightly more employers now looking to reduce their staffing numbers than add to them.”

However, retailers would do what ever they could to avoid a recruitment freeze whether on seasonal or permanent staff, he said. “Even as we see redundancies in the labour market, the majority of employers want to avoid reducing their workforce,” he said.

His comments were echoed by Paul Dodds of the British Retail Consortium. “These are very tough times and retailers are scrutinising all their costs but there’s no reason to think there will be a rush of job losses,” he said. “It’s not as good as it has been over the past 10 years, and it’s not surprising we are not seeing the employment growth we have enjoyed.”

Sainsbury’s said that it had not yet confirmed its recruitment numbers for this year. Asda, however, insisted that it would appoint as many seasonal staff this year as it did last at around 5,000.

Manufacturers meanwhile remained bullish. The number of businesses expecting to take on more staff outweighed those expecting to decrease them by 3%. However, this is the lowest this figure has been since 2002.

“Manufacturers are still hiring and struggling to fill jobs,” said a spokeswoman for the Food and Drink Federation. “We may be facing an economic downturn but people still need to eat and we still need to keep producing.”