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Our View: Longer opening hours not likely to help in current economic climate

THE SHOP OPENING hours of the tourist areas will apply to all of Cyprus from tomorrow. In other words all shops would be able to stay open seven days a week until 10pm. On Sundays they would be obliged to close an hour earlier. The labour minister was given the green light to amend the decrees governing opening hours by the Council of Ministers and announced the decision on Tuesday.

For years, the big stores and the Chamber of Commerce KEVE had been demanding seven-day opening and were protesting because this applied only to the tourist areas. The demand has now been satisfied, but only for as long as the tourist season lasts. After October 13, shops would have to go back to the normal opening hours that would defeat the object of the exercise which, according to the government was job creation.

There is a suspicion that the idea of job creation was cited in order to reduce the resistance of the powerful association of small shops POVEK that had always opposed seven-day opening. It would be difficult for POVEK to campaign against a measure that is supposed to create jobs, at a time of record unemployment and boost business activity, as KEVE has claimed.

While the liberalisation of shopping hours is a good thing and should have been implemented years ago, it would be naive to think that it would have any positive effects on the economy. After all, people are spending less on shopping because they have less money and not because shops are closed on Sundays and Wednesday afternoons. It is a fallacy to believe that shops would do more business, in the current economic conditions, if they stayed open for longer hours.

As for the job creation aspect of the scheme, it could only have been thought up by ministry bureaucrats that embrace Soviet economic thinking. According to the government’s rules, any shop that decided to stay open on Sundays and Wednesday afternoons would be obliged to cover 50 per cent of the extra working hours created by hiring unemployed people registered with labour ministry’s flexible employment scheme. And the ministry would cover 65 per cent of the wage of the newly-hired staff for a period of eight months.

In short, there are conditions for opening seven days a week. The obvious question is, would a shop that is run by its owner not be allowed to open on Sundays, because the one-man business could not afford to hire an unemployed worker? And why would any business hire extra staff, if its revenue increased by a small amount as a result of the longer opening hours? The extra revenue could be used to pay off creditors, buy new stock etc.

It is not for ministry bureaucrats to decide how a shop-owner runs his business. Then again what can we expect from people that think that consumption would increase, during a depression, by keeping shops open for longer hours.

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