By Constantinos Psillides
Details of a bill regulating shopping hours were being hammered out by the House Labour Committee on Tuesday as the plenum is set to decide on Thursday if shops can remain open on Sundays.
The proposal, tabled by DIKO, will be backed by AKEL and EDEK, securing enough votes to pass.
DIKO’s proposal is a compromise between a government proposal that liberated shopping hours and one from AKEL that called for a return to the 2012 regulations that allowed only stores in designated tourist zones to open on Sundays.
DIKO’s proposal extends shopping hours on weekdays – from 5am to 9pm, from Monday to Saturday – while forbidding all stores from opening on a Sunday. Ayia Napa, Protaras and the Latsi and Polis Chrysochous area in Paphos are exempt from the rule, as shop owners there mostly work during the summer season, according to DIKO MP Angelos Votsis.
The proposal only allows for stores in those areas to be open during the summer season, May to November. Throughout the year, only souvenir shops and stores that sell traditional products relating to Cypriot culture are allowed to open on Sunday.
Chairman of the Committee, AKEL MP Andreas Fakontis said that his party will table an amendement allowing jewellery stores and supermarkets up to 150 square meters to also be included. Also, AKEL will ask for the old town of Nicosia and the Coral Bay area in Paphos to also be included in the tourist areas description.
Fakontis added the committee will ask for fines for those opening illegally be increased. AKEL wants to give authority to labour ministry inspectors to fine shop owners on the spot if they operate outside their allowed hours.
“First time offenders will be fined to the tune of €300. Repeat offenders will be forced to pay double that while third-time offenders will be taken to court,” Fakontis said.
While the opposition parties may be in an agreement, labour minister Zeta Emilianidou has warned that legally distinguishing between shops that can open and those that can’t is discrimination and will not hold up in the Supreme Court.
“You can’t just legally discriminate between stores. This is a job of the executive branch,” Emilianidou said on Tuesday. Asked whether she had been in touch with the Attorney General, the minister said she is waiting for the finalised proposal as is the legal service.
“I still haven’t worked out how busineness in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca are any different from those in the areas designated by the DIKO proposal. What is to happen to people who were employed because stores opened on Sunday?” she asked.
Supporters of the government plan to allow stores to open on Sunday – the labour minister issued decrees that lasted until April 20, when parliament voted to strip her of that authority – say around 7,000 people found employment because of the liberalisation.
Meanwhile, other tourist areas have expressed dissatisfaction over the proposed amendment. Peyia mayor Neofytos Akoursiotis told CyBC radio that in the event the amendment is passed, “a war will break out between municipalities and the store owners themselves.”
He claims distinguishing between businesses is unfair. “Can anyone please explain to me what is the difference between the tourist area in Coral Bay and the one in Latsi,” he asked. “I hope parliament doesn’t rush a decision. In that event there will be an all out war between municipalities.”
Finance minister Harris Georgiades stressed that everyone’s goal should be “to allow job creation, not hinder it.” Georgiades urged parliament to re-think some of the limitations proposed, “that serve neither the consumers or the economy in general.”
“It’s not the job of the government or parliament to decide whether a store should be allowed to extend its shopping hours while another store on the next street is not, or whether a 150 square meter supermarket should remain open while a 155 square meter supermarket should not. Our economy is in a crucial correction point so we have to liberate productive forces and not hinder job creation,” he said.
Asked whether he has considered the fact that some shop owners cannot afford to open on a Sunday, the minister said opening on a Sunday is a right, not an order.
“Stores are not obliged to open on a Sunday. It’s a right, a chance to work and employ someone who otherwise would be unemployed. Some hotels for example decided not to open during the winter season.”
The Labour minister announced on Monday that the government will subsidise the salary of employees hired to work on Sundays for small business owners by 60 per cent. Emilianidou made clear that the subsidy will be put into effect regardless of what parliament decides on shopping hours.
The Employers and Industrialists Federation (OEV) on Tuesday criticised those against the government’s plan to liberalise hours.
“These are the same people who fought passionately to prevent any business to open on a Sunday, the same who fought against opening stores on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, who called for an obligatory three hour rest at noon. These are the same people who for the last 25 years have systematically opposed every single attempt at progress and improvement so we could adjust to the needs of consumers and the economy,” it said.