By Elias Hazou
FRAMING it in populist terms – big business versus the mom-and-pop store striving to eke out a living – opposition MPs on Thursday ordained that most shops will be closed on Sundays.
Under the new law, certain general stores – such as department stores, malls and supermarkets – will not be allowed to operate on Sundays.
Throughout the year, general stores may stay open all week, except Sundays. On Wednesdays and Saturdays they will operate from 5am until 8pm during wintertime, and from 5am until 9pm in the summer.
Exempt from this general Sunday prohibition, but only for the summer season, are shops in Ayia Napa, Protaras, Polis Chrysochous, Latsi, the walled city of Nicosia, and Coral Bay in Peyia. Their summer business hours will be from 5am to 11pm (Monday through Saturday) and 7.30am to 11pm on Sundays.
By contrast, designated specialty stores will be open for business throughout the week, from 5am to 10pm, throughout the year. This applies to souvenir shops, shops selling Cypriot handicraft items and traditional Cypriot foodstuffs and beverages, jewellery shops, and mini markets of 150 square meters and less.
And a related bill establishes the five-day week for retail workers. Employers found to violate this stipulation will face a €300 penalty for the first such infraction, €600 for the second, and will go to court on the third infraction.
The new law takes effect as of May 15. It was backed by DIKO, AKEL, EDEK, the Greens, the Citizens Alliance and independent MP Zacharias Koulias, leaving ruling DISY alone to buck the trend.
Deputies in favour said the new regime aims not to disrupt retail trade, while at the same time correcting the unfair advantage previously given to large stores with the ability to hire extra staff for Sundays – to the detriment of small family outfits that could not compete.
MPs argued also that big businesses had abused the all-week system by firing full-time staff in order to then hire more part-timers, whom they would pay lower wages.
“We created the generation on €500 a month,” lamented EDEK’s Roula Mavronikola.
This seemed, however, to contradict official data from the department of social security, according to which the majority of retail workers earned an average salary of €800.
“How much profit do big corporations want? Is there no end to their greed?” weighed in the Greens’ George Perdikis.
DISY leader Averof Neophytou warned, however, that the thousands hired in retail since extended shops and Sundays were introduced almost two years ago, now stand to lose their jobs.
“I wonder, my colleagues who say that the work-hours will more or less stay the same with this new arrangement, do they really believe that?”
Likewise, the retailers association PASYLE expressed disappointment at the parliament’s move. But as far as they were concerned, for the time being they would refrain “from taking any hasty actions” that might put employees out of work.
The association’s lawyers intended to take a closer look at the legislation with a view to possibly challenging it.
And according to the Cyprus News Agency, the Labour ministry will be asking the Attorney-general’s office to dissect the law to determine whether any of its clauses are in breach of the constitution. Presumably such a discovery might then give the President the ammunition to refuse to sign off on the law.
Earlier in the day, prominent businessman Nicos Shacolas likewise warned that thousands of jobs would be nixed should parliament ban Sunday work.
The Shacolas Group itself would be forced to send dismissal notices to 1,200 people in the coming week, he added.
According to Shacolas, it wasn’t just managers and salespeople that were needed for a store to operate on a Sunday.
There were also the suppliers, cleaners, security guards, and so on.
Opposing Sundays were the shopkeepers association (POVEK), 24-hour convenience stores, bakeries and butchers, and kiosks, backed by left-leaning worker trade unions.
On the other side of the fence are the retailers association, fruit markets, small supermarkets, the Cyprus Consumers Association, the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation and the Federation of Employers and Industrialists.
Speaking to the Mail on an earlier occasion, AKEL MP Andreas Fakondis provided a glimpse into his party’s whole ideological approach to commerce.
Responding to a question, Fakondis had dismissed the notion that controlling retail trade was counter-productive or that one should go along with whatever consumers preferred.
“Consumers would also like banks and the civil service to be open 18 hours a day. Should we oblige? When would people ever rest?” he said.
Under the previous system, the Labour 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 ordinances on the matter, which in turn needed parliamentary approval.
The parties subsequently rejected the government regulations, drafting their own bills.