By Elias Hazou
HAVING failed to achieve anything approximating consensus on whether shops should stay open on Sundays, lawmakers have postponed their decision to Thursday’s House plenary.
Thursday, April 30, is the date when the labour minister’s last decree governing shop hours expires. After that, unless new legislation or ordinances are passed, a legal vacuum will be created.
Under the previous system, the minister would issue decrees on an ad hoc basis allowing shops in tourist areas to operate on Sundays from 11am to 7pm and have extended hours during the rest of the week.
But in March, the House passed a law stripping the minister of the right to issue decrees, forcing the government to draw up comprehensive regulations on the matter, which in turn need parliamentary approval.
The opposition, in particular AKEL, disputes the government’s claim that extended retail business hours have created some 7,000 jobs since the policy was introduced in July.
The party has cited its own figures showing that hundreds of convenience stores and bakeries have shut down, with some 2,700 people losing their jobs, because they are unable to compete with the large department stores.
Whereas opposition parties are fine with extended hours on weekdays, they are unanimous in wanting general stores staying shut on Sundays. It’s understood that kiosks have been lobbying strongly for this.
The government has prepared shop-hour regulations as well as a bill governing workers’ rights, currently being debated at the House labour committee.
Andreas Assiotis, the Labour ministry’s permanent secretary, told legislators yesterday that if parliament rejects the regulations, the government would have to withdraw the bill on workers’ rights as well, as the two are interrelated.
Given the impasse, DISY MP Nicos Nouris proposed that the bill barring ministerial decrees be frozen for a couple of weeks, giving parliament some time to perhaps reach agreement on the details.
The other parties will consider the proposal. It’s understood that the House Labour committee is to convene again on Thursday morning, to decide whether to vote on the shop hours or not on the same day.
DIKO has proposed that shops remain closed on Sundays, except for those operating in the Famagusta area.
DISY’s Nouris, an MP from the Nicosia district, disagreed, saying this would complicate matters by creating a two-tier system, and also putting the capital at a disadvantage.
Another alternative, coming from EDEK, is that shops could operate on Sundays, but for only half the year.
According to the regulations as submitted by the labour ministry, working hours for general stores in Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos will be from 5am to 10pm, Monday through Saturday, and 11am to 7pm on Sundays.
Famagusta district, that includes the popular holiday resorts of Ayia Napa and Protaras, was afforded a slightly expanded schedule – shops may remain open from 5am to 11pm from Monday to Saturday, and 7:30am to 11pm on Sunday.
Staying open on Sundays is up to each business, but if they choose to work they must adhere strictly to the timetable.
All businesses – general or specialty stores – must shut by no later than 6pm on Good Friday, Easter Saturday, and on December 24 and 31.
Butchers can operate on Sundays and public holidays, but from 7.30am to 11am only.
If a general store is open seven days a week, employers must give workers two 24-hour rest periods or one 48-hour rest period per week.
General stores choosing not to operate on Sundays are obliged to grant employees three mornings or afternoons off, plus a 24-hour rest period, per week.
Employees working more than four days a week will work only every other Sunday. Sunday work gets double pay.
The retailers’ association has hailed the extended shop hours as a success, as has the federation of employers and industrialists. Anecdotal evidence suggests Sundays have led to an uptake in retail business, as consumers have more spare time to shop.