By Evie Andreou
AS the small shopkeepers union continues what appears to be its losing battle over extended shop opening hours, union officials have likened Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou to Marie Antoinette.
“The people are asking for bread and Marie Antoinette, the minister, is telling us to eat cake,” said Stefanos Koursaris, the general secretary of POVEK, adding that this week’s Cabinet decree which extended for the seventh time longer shop opening hours is killing small businesses.
He said the decision was arbitrary and that usually decrees are issued for special cases and for short periods of time, while this specific decree had been extended for a year without solving the problems it was supposed to.
POVEK, which opposed the decree since its introduction last July, sent a letter to President Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday asking for a meeting and for his personal involvement in the matter.
“We will give the president a ten day time credit to meet with us. After that, we will move to more drastic measures,” said Koursaris.
“According to the statistical service, unemployment rose to 78,000 people and the shops’ turnover has decreased by 30 per cent,” he said, arguing that that opening shops on Sundays and for longer hours during the week had failed to solve the very problems they were supposed to address.
Small shop owners and their employees say they are being adversely hit by the longer hours at the expense of large department stores which can afford to hire the necessary extra staff.
Smaller businesses either have to stay open for longer hours on existing staff or just close.
“What about the social cost? If we consider how many parents are absent from dinner Sunday tables, is it worth it?” said one shop owner who asked to remain anonymous. Nicosia shop owner Andreas Tsaousis said that he sympathised with both sides.
He said he understood large shop owners who want to safeguard their investments and expand, but also felt sorry for the small, family businesses that follow the extended hours with personal sacrifices.
“It would be best if a compromise solution was found so that both sides would be satisfied,” he said adding that the original shop opening hours were the outcome of dialogue, negotiations and compromises.
“If for example a Sunday per month was set as a shopping day instead of every Sunday, it would help small shop owners to keep up and accommodate the large shop owners too,” he said.
Some shop owners have decided they cannot fully keep to the new hours and stay closed on Sundays.
“Shops should all be open and all close at the same time just like before,” said Maroula Neocleous, clothing shop owner in old Nicosia, and added that she does not keep the extended hours.
Christos Vanezos, a clothing store employee said that he is very satisfied with his current job because his employer had decided not to keep the store where he works open on Sundays.
“We have our shop hours, and we don’t work on Sundays and I am super satisfied in this job as opposed to the supermarket job I had before, where I was earning more but I had no personal time,” he said.
Vicky, a shoe shop employee, said that her employer too decided not to open on Sundays and that the extended working hours is inhuman.
“It is physically straining and we don’t see our families,” she said.
POVEK, which has tried to legally challenge the decree, has also started to take more assertive action.
The first measure was black Thursday last week, when all shops were supposed to hang black flags on the windows of their shops and POVEK along with other small shop owners’ unions handed over a memorandum to Emilianidou asking for the abolition of the decree.