By Peter Stevenson
SOME 5,000 people have been hired to work in the retail industry since last July as a result of the extended shop opening hours, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou said on Monday.
Speaking following a meeting of the House labour committee, Emilianidou said the move had helped the fight against unemployment.
She said that previous legislation which had established tourist areas – allowing only shops on certain streets to open on Sunday and Saturday – was against any healthy competition and the principle of equal treatment.
“It would be wrong for businesses on one specific road to remain open but on the neighbouring roads businesses cannot,” she said.
Emilianidou said she is continuing discussion to ensure a balance to safeguard workers rights, to support small businesses and for those 5,000 people to keep their jobs.
Emilianidou did not respond to the committee’s proposal that shops be allowed to remain open on Saturdays but Sunday’s to be considered a public holiday, but said that if working hours were reduced then the 5,000 new workers would struggle to keep their jobs.
The minister told MPs that the government had already announced plans to fund small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with €300 million. Currently in effect, she added, is a plan which will cover 70 per cent of business payroll for any extra hours that are worked.
Committee chairman Andreas Fakontis said that during the meeting SME representatives said they were deeply concerned about the future of their businesses.
“The new working hours are killing SMEs and leading them to closure. The unfair competition between large and small businesses creates too many problems, hindering the continued existence of SMEs – the backbone of the economy,” he said.
Fakontis added that there is infringement and circumvention of working conditions and working hours and even the minimum wage, despite an agreement that this would not happen.
“The labour ministry is incapable of checking adequately whether this agreement is being kept,” he said.
The labour ministry issued a decree in July last year allowing shops outside tourist areas to remain open until later on weekdays, Saturdays and also on Sunday. Shops must cover at least half of the extra hours by hiring unemployed people registered with the labour ministry’s flexible unemployment scheme.