NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Walmart will pay current employees at least $10 an hour within the next year, the company announced Thursday.
The nation’s largest private sector employer said 500,000 full-time and part-time associates at Walmart U.S. stores and Sam’s Clubs will receive pay raises in April that will take them to at least $9 an hour, which will be $1.75 an hour above the current federal minimum wage.
By February 1 of next year, their pay will rise to at least $10 an hour.
The company said workers will also have more control over their schedules but declined to give details of those changes. And it said it would invest more in training to give entry-level workers greater chance for promotion and other career advancement.
The wage scale and other improvement in work conditions will cost the company about $1 billion in this fiscal year.
Walmart’s pay and employment policies have been the focus of protest by some workers and outside labor groups seeking to organize Walmart employees. Black Friday protestors last year were demanding a $15 an hour pay minimum across the company.
Currently, only about 6,000 Walmart employees out of more than 1.2 million nationwide are paid at the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, according to the company.
Once the company’s starting pay becomes $9 an hour in April, the average pay for full-time retail workers there will be about $13 an hour. Walmart has previously said that average already stands at $12.94 an hour.
The average part-time wage will be about $10 an hour, according to Carol Schumacher, vice president of investor relations for the company.
President Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but Republicans in Congress have so far blocked those efforts. But many states have gone ahead and raised their own state minimum wage rates, either by action of the legislature or voter initiative.
“We’re not taking a position on what the government does,” said Schumacher. “But any time any company, whether it’s us or someone else, raises wages, it’s a help for the economy.”
The improved labor market, with employers hiring at their strongest pace since the 1990s, is giving workers a boost: the average wage nationwide climbed by 2.2% over the previous year, according to the Labor Department. The number of employees willing to quit jobs to look for or take new positions is also rising.
While Walmart says the higher wages should help reduce its turnover rate, Schumacher said these plans were in the works well before the recent pick-up in the job market.
CNNMoney’s Katie Lobosco contributed to this report
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