Cyprus Mail
Business Cyprus

Opening hours extension sparks new war of words

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou

By Poly Pantelides 

THE decision to extend shop opening hours until the end of November sparked a war of words yesterday between stakeholders representing small businesses and large retailers.

Labour minister Zeta Emilianidou made it clear yesterday the decree, which came into force in July on a pilot basis would be renewed as of Sunday – when it is due to expire – until the end of November. December would see additional opening hours as usual for the Christmas period, and a final decision on Sunday openings would be taken after that, she said.

“This will give us more time to discuss it further with all parties involved,” she said.

However as the response so far, both from consumers and big business at least, has been positive, and because around 1,700 people have benefitted jobs-wise from the move, the likelihood is that the decree will eventually be made permanent.

The minister suggested, during a discussion on the issue on public broadcaster CyBC yesterday that the whole matter would be eventually forwarded to parliament for legal regulation.

The televised discussion degenerated into a shouting match however when representatives from large and small businesses were interviewed.

A very vocal and concerned head of the Consumers Union and Quality of Life accused the ministry of failing to research the issue and its ramifications properly.

Loucas Aristodemou said that the majority of businesses in Cyprus were small to medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) that were family businesses.

Changing the market “to benefit monopolies and oligopolies” would eventually harm consumers who would be facing higher prices, he said. Meanwhile, families were suffering and reports were coming in of people being employed for less than the obligatory minimum wage, he added.

On the other end of the spectrum, Marios Antoniou, representing an association of retailers that mostly represents big interests, said that if anything, the move corrected a distortion from 2006 when the decision was taken to implement different hours within and outside tourist areas.

Antoniou’s remark sparked outrage in Aristodemou who suggested the 2006 measure was itself designed to benefit specific interests to the disadvantage of others.

Siding with Aristodemou was Lakis Zoides representing small shopkeepers’ union POVEK, which has disagreed with the decree from the beginning and has mounted a legal challenge. It was perfectly true, he said, that the minister – for all her claims – had not engaged the stakeholders in a proper dialogue. During a meeting with the minister where he mentioned the word “dialogue” he was promptly corrected by Emilianidou who had told him the meeting was merely “a briefing”, he said.

Andreas Hadjiadamou, head of the supermarkets association said SMEs have always claimed that any kind of different measures would harm them and that the same exaggerations had always been expressed when any change was suggested.

“Consumers are not robots to be told when to shop. Consumers have a right to shop whenever they want,” said Hadjiadamou.

Emilianidou said the government believes the measure has been partly successful in helping employment at a time when the jobless rate is still on the rises.

She said that basic items such as milk were now cheaper because of competition.

She also said that new schemes for SMEs aimed to help with liquidity by enabling easier loans. The government was also currently processing a project to fund, to the tune of 70 per cent, the payroll for SMEs up to four employees per business, she said.

See also ‘Our View’

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