By Poly Pantelides
SMALL SHOPKEEPERS’ union POVEK accused the Labour Ministry of exceeding its mandate by issuing a decree allowing shops to stay open longer hours and on Sundays, warning on Wednesday that this would negatively impact smaller businesses.
The labour ministry announced on Tuesday that shops located outside of tourist areas, as of Friday, could opt to remain open longer and seven days a week following a decision to partly liberalise the market in light of the ongoing economic downturn.
Shops will be able to stay open until 10pm between Monday and Saturday, and open at 9am on Sundays until 9pm, greatly extending business hours every day and permitting their opening on Sundays.
More flexible working hours and Sunday openings were already available to shopkeepers in tourist areas. The latest decision expands this to all areas of Cyprus.
The scheme is optional and businesses may adjust opening hours to suit their needs.
“The decision aims to lift restrictions which given the present economic crisis are not helping boost the economy, while all shops will be treated the same,” an official announcement said.
To participate in the programme, however, shops will need to cover at last half the additional opening hours by hiring new staff from those who are unemployed and have registered in a government scheme on flexible employment.
The eligible unemployed may get up to 65 per cent of their remuneration covered for a period of eight months by government and EU funds worth a total of €6.8 million. Employers must keep them on the payroll for a minimum of ten months.
The Nicosia tourist board said the decision would encourage tourism in the capital by providing visitors with more convenient visiting hours in local shops.
However, POVEK said on Wednesday the move would not bring about the desired results of “rejuvenating the market and supporting employment”.
Rather, it is large businesses and owners of malls and chains that would benefit at the expense of small businesses, said the union.
“In practice, implementing this decision will close down businesses, increase unemployment and will not help the real economy.”
POVEK reminded that flexible hours had previously only been permitted for shops in tourist zones, which are defined as any area where because of incoming tourists, shops, “certain hotels”, other tourist facilities and archaeological sites need to remain open beyond regular working hours.
The union bemoaned the fact that no consultation took place prior to the ministry’s announcement. POVEK members would meet to discuss the matter further, it said.
Major trade union PEO also criticised the move, saying it would hurt workers who would be pushed into working irregular hours. Personal and family lives would become unsettled by implementing the decision which would mostly affect women, who tend to be employed in the retail sectors, said the union.
PEO also predicted the government scheme would not succeed in getting unemployed people back into the labour market and highlighted that it would be monitoring the scheme for any violation of workers’ rights.
The employers and industrialists federation, OEV, said in a statement that measures aiming to boost retail trade should “logically be expected to reduce the extend of the recession and slow down the economy’s contraction rate”. “Extending opening hours is clearly such a measure that in combination with others can help achieve that goal,” OEV added, calling on businesses to take advantage of the scheme.
For those interested in applying for the flexible employment scheme, the application process with the Cyprus Productivity Centre ends at the end of October. For further information, call 22-806106 or 22-806102.