Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has announced it will raise starting salaries at around a third of its US stores. New staff at more than 1,200 Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Club wholesalers will be paid 6% more than the current starting rate.

“Wal-Mart pays competitive wages, and we continue to transform our pay plans as we grow,” said Susan Chambers, executive vice-president of Wal-Mart’s People Division. The company declines to declare its average starting salary, but says its average hourly pay for fulltime employees is US$10.

The company, which owns the Asda supermarket group in the UK, also said it was rethinking its pay increase structure to reward those employees “displaying excellent annual performance and customer service”. It is also implementing new pay ranges, which it said are “wider than many other retailers, with the maximum being near the top of the market in many regions”. Controversially, employees wanting to move beyond the top of the range would need to apply for promotion.

Wal-Mart has become a regular target of organisations and activists seeking to improve terms and conditions for low-paid workers. Chicago City Council recently passed a controversial ordinance that requires big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart, to pay a “living wage”.

Paul Blank, campaign director of union-backed website WakeupWalMart.com, commented: “Wal-Mart has coupled this so-called “salary change” with a salary cap on long-term workers that will not only destroy employee morale [and] hurt Wal-Mart workers’ families, but will force many long-term associates to leave the company.”