By Andria Kades
CONSUMER unions appeared conflicted yesterday over the ongoing shop hours debate and whether they should be open on Sundays.
“The draft bill submitted by the minister (of labour) covers employees’ safety. It has to be voted for and followed strictly,” coordinator of the Cyprus Consumer Association Yiorgos Stylianou said adding that this would enable consumers to move more freely in the market.
He questioned why consumers could have a choice over the products they wanted to buy, where from and at what price on weekdays but not on Sundays if shops were closed, according to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA).
On the opposing side of the argument, the Consumers Union and Quality of Life leader Loucas Aristodimou said “we have to look at the big picture and any consequences this could have on competition and people’s social life.”
“You can’t bring up a culture of consumers that have the mentality of a chicken, raised to eat only for the purposes of profit,” while the reality of the current situation, he stipulated, is that people are deprived of their families, the chance to rest and have a quality life.
Small and medium sized businesses, the backbone of the economy, often ran as family operations, would not be able to compete against the big companies and were likely to close down, he added, leaving several homes without an income.
“All of these are anti-social decisions we disagree with. We want Sunday to be a day of rest.”
The Labour ministry said that the draft bill submitted to parliament regulates for the first time, the right of every employee to work five days a week and have at least two Sundays off a month.
It added that between July 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014, almost 16,000 people were hired following the move to have shops open on Sundays. About 10,800 are still in employment of which approximately 77 per cent are Greek Cypriot.
AKEL has called this a ‘myth’ citing a breakdown of the statistics that showed the number of people paid less than €800 had increased indicating that workers were exploited.
“What the government has succeeded in doing is changing every permanent job to two part time jobs. They want to protect big businesses that can now spend thousands of Euros on advertisements in newspapers and in the streets in support of extending work hours,” AKEL secretary general Andros Kyprianou said.
Earlier this week, employer and employee unions staged a protest outside parliament to support extending shop hours. Regulations, still pending for a parliament vote, allow shops in Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos to open from 5 am to 10 pm from Monday through to Saturday, and 11 am to 7 pm on Sundays. In Famagusta, a slightly extended schedule is proposed, with shops opening from 5 am to 11 pm on weekdays – including Saturday – and 7:30 am to 11 pm on Sundays.
Labour minister Zeta Emilianidou pointed out that the regulations are not mandatory, meaning shopkeepers have the option of closing on Sundays or at any other time. The bill has garnered support by various stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the employers’ association, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, and various trade associations.
Opposition parties DIKO, EDEK, and the Greens, as well as the kiosk-owners’ and small-business owners’ association POVEK are against it.