Apple is laying off new retail staff in its various brick-and-mortar retail outlets in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, a new report has it. New hires and employees on their probation period have been let go in the United Kingdom, where Apple operates 33 retail stores.

Back in the United States and Canada, we’re hearing whispers of part-time staffers seeing their hours reduced, some even to zero. All of this is happening just as the next iPhone is coming to full view. What exactly is going on here?

Eric Slivka reports for MacRumors:

According to one report, all employees at a certain store in the United Kingdom with less than six months of service have been laid off, including a group that had been hired only one month ago and had just completed their training program.

New hiring has also been halted, and internal company transfers between stores have been placed on hold.

It ain’t just existing employees, new hires are being let go as well.

Another report similarly indicates that a number of newly-hired employees have just been laid off, while several longer-term employees who had recently been promoted never received their pay increases and are now being demoted back to their previous positions.

The extent of these layoffs was not known at press time, though it apparently includes people on their  probationary periods.

A third report comes from one of those who was laid off at an Apple Store in the United Kingdom, a source who notes that three separate training groups have all been laid off in their entirety within the past week, all of whom were still within their probationary periods as new employees.

We’re not sure what to make of this.

The timing of the layoffs is conspicuously close to the upcoming September launch of the next iPhone. Such a high-profile product traditionally marks a period of increased hiring as the California firm overstaffs its retail locations to handle a sudden influx of would-be iPhone shoppers.

Matthew Panzarino of The Next Web got in touch with retail sources who confirmed that “there has been some changes in hiring lately, and that hours are getting cut, but they had not seen any layoffs”.

The sources points out that some of the re-shuffling we’re seeing now is a result of Apple hiking wages by 25 percent back in June. “The general scuttlebutt is that Apple is equalizing those pay raises by cutting employee hours and slowing hiring”, Panzarino writes.

Looks like Apple’s new retail guy John Browett was serious when he announced changes to some of Apple’s retail policies.

Browett OK’d recent Genius ads that didn’t sit well with some viewers.

Prior to this, he dealt with negative publicity surrounding a story by The New York Times, a part of the paper’s ongoing iEconomy series, which depicted Apple’s retail policies in unfavorable light, to say the least.

In response to the investigative piece which revealed that Apple’s retail army is long on loyalty but short on pay, the company has introduced a career path program for new hires.

Perhaps the layoffs have something to do with the improvements Apple is allegedly introducing to its retail chain, like a completely redesigned Concierge Genius Bar application that will make it easier for employees to check in customers and view upcoming appointments.

What’s your take?

Why is Apple letting retail staff go now that we’re less than four weeks away from the iPhone 5 launch?