TRADE unions are preparing to fight unemployment in the retail sector as statistics to be released today are expected to show the jobless rate has not fallen below three per cent. The jobless rate at the end of June was 3.1 per cent, or 82,000 people. Union leaders said employers in the retail trade were sacking permanent staff and replacing them with casual workers. 'Employers use different reasons to get rid of [retail workers] to avoid paying year-end double pay, fringe benefits, and overtime payments,' said Wong Kwok-hing, spokesman for the Hong Kong Department and Commercial General Union. Cheng Yiu-tong, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said: 'We are keeping an eye on the retail workers. They will be hardest hit.' The unions said manufacturing workers - who account for 29.4 per cent of all unemployed in the first quarter - would soon be replaced by retailing as the worst hit sector if the trend persisted. The value of retail sales in May was estimated at $17.1 billion, up four per cent from the same month last year. Unionists blamed the Government for not doing enough to ease the jobless situation. They said they were preparing to help some of the 240,000 retail workers to cope with unemployment. They will gather information on workers who may be made redundant and will bargain collectively on their behalf with their employers. If that fails, they will help workers secure severance payment. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Labour Department said 684 out of 1,960 applicants for job-matching in the last few months had found jobs.