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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N) is moving workers to a new advanced scheduling system, building on a pilot program it tested last year that schedules hourly employees based on the number of shoppers in a store.
"This is exactly what we were piloting before, and it has been introduced to cashiers and customer service positions," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Wal-Mart will start moving many of its 1.3 million workers from predictable shifts to a system based on how many customers are in stores at a given time.
Wal-Mart said last year that it was testing the system as it looks to cut labor costs. Clark said Wal-Mart plans to move all hourly workers to the new system this year.
Critics contend the advanced system takes hours away from full-time employees and demands more flexibility from workers.
"You are saying to workers who are already getting paid poorly ... if you want any hours, you have to agree to work when we want you to work and to agree to a schedule that changes," said Chris Kofinis, spokesman for WakeUpWalMart.com, which has pressured Wal-Mart to improve pay and benefits.
But Clark said the retailer does not have "open availability," meaning workers are available to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She said no hours have been cut or reduced as part of the new scheduling system.
Wal-Mart said the new system ensures that stores are fully staffed at peak shopping times and it takes into account the hours employees prefer to work.
"It is much friendlier and more predictable than the previous system in that it actually asks for our associates preferences of when they prefer to work," Clark said.
She said under the old system, store managers drew up schedules based on the level of sales in a store. Now, increased staffing will coincide with times when customer traffic surges, she said.
Clark said employee schedules are now available three weeks in advance, while under old system, schedules were posted two to three weeks in advance.
Clark said the size of the pilot program was "significant," but she did not have numbers on how many employees were included in the pilot.
The Journal report said other retailers such as Payless ShoeSource Inc. PSS.N and RadioShack Corp. RSH.N are also using advanced scheduling systems.