By Poly Pantelides
LABOUR minister Zeta Emilianidou on Tuesday informed ambivalent lawmakers she was looking to renew a decree expanding shop hours which has been hotly debated by stakeholders since its July launch.
Emilianidou was briefing the House Labour Committee on the decree, due to expire on October 13, allowing shops outside tourist areas to remain open later on weekdays and also on Sundays.
Shops must cover at least half of the extra opening hours by hiring registered unemployed whose wage will be covered by the ministry for eight months by 65 per cent.
Emilianidou said as of September 1,660 people, mostly Cypriots, had been hired as part of the scheme, the majority of whom earned over €650 a month.
The state has pledged over €30 million in EU co-funded schemes this year to boost employment across various sectors, as the island experiences its worst jobless rates in three decades. Emilianidou said there would be some adjustments to the terms of any renewed decree, but did not specify.
Lawmakers were ambivalent over the decree with the labour committee head Andreas Fakontis, with former ruling party AKEL, repeating his party’s position the move had harmed smaller retailers. Angelos Votsis with coalition party DIKO proposed as a compromise excluding Sunday, so bigger shops would not have an advantage over smaller ones that were incapable of opening up on Sundays.
Meanwhile, AKEL-affiliated union PEO renewed calls to withdraw the decree.
PEO said shops were firing permanent employees to hire replacements who were forced to work under worse conditions.
An association representing the interests of big retailers standing to benefit from the decree has previously rubbished PEO’s claims as perpetrating “myths” to mislead the public. The association’s take is that businesses need to adjust to survive. Longer opening hours will also benefit everyone, the retailers’ association claims.
The labour minister said yesterday 12 (unnamed) retailers were facing criminal prosecution over failing to pay employees extra for working on Sundays.
If renewed, the decree will be valid until the end of November, she added.
Between December 1 and December 31, shops may remain open between 8am and 8pm throughout the week with the exception of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve where they must close their doors at 6pm.