MADRID, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Department store El Corte Ingles, the biggest private sector employer within Spain, will take on around 2,000 temporary staff for the festive season, it said, in a sign the country's retail sector is gearing up for its best Christmas in seven years.
El Corte Ingles, considered an economic bellwether because of its 14 billion euros ($18 billion) in annual sales and 83,128 full-time employees, is taking on around 2.4 percent more staff to cope with expected demand, a source familiar with the matter said.
The privately-owned group declined to comment further. It would not say how many temporary staff it employed over the Christmas season last year. It shed about 3,000 permanent staff in 2013.
After six years of on-off recession, Spain's recovery has so far been tentative. The economy is growing more quickly than most of its European peers, but consumer spending is still hampered by unemployment of close to 24 percent.
Nevertheless, employment agency Adecco said Spanish businesses - from hotels to transport firms and retailers - will take on around 375,000 temporary staff for the November-January Christmas season, 10 percent more than a year ago.
Spaniards traditionally give gifts on the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, so the Christmas shopping period lasts longer than in other countries.
Toy retailer Toys"R"Us will also take on 1,500 staff in Spain for Christmas, almost doubling its local workforce, local media reported.
Spanish retailers' association ANGED said last December marked a turnaround after big falls in retail sales since 2007, and 2014 should show further improvements.
Seasonally-adjusted retail sales were down 1 percent year-on-year last December, official data showed, compared with an 11 percent fall in December 2012.
Larger retailers have survived the downturn despite lower sales, and many have recently taken on staff again. But smaller retailers struggled, with some only making it through after benefiting from below market rate rents, an advantage that will run out for many next year. (1 US dollar = 0.7970 euro) (Reporting By Elisabeth O'Leary and Robert Hetz; editing by Susan Thomas)