By Constantinos Psillides
It is highly probable the legislation ordaining that shops remain closed on Sundays is unconstitutional, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou said on Friday, preparing the way for President Nicos Anastasiades to refer the law to the Supreme Court.
The legislation was backed by all opposition parties and opposed only by ruling DISY. The government had proposed a different bill, allowing all shops to be open on a Sunday.
“It is up to the Attorney-general now. We are working closely with the Law Office of the Republic to plan our next step,” said Emilianidou, adding that the legislation was problematic and spelled trouble for everyone.
Ruling DISY called the legislation “a monument to contradiction” and claiming that it will destroy the retail sector and tourism.
“They say that they are acting in the protect consumers and workers but this legislation will turn against both of them,” said a statement from DISY, adding that “in the name of service people are now allowed to buy jewellery on a Sunday but not food.”
CyBC radio, citing unnamed sources, reported that if the case goes to court the AG would argue that the legislation unfairly discriminates between businesses and that deciding on shop hours is within the authority of the executive branch, not the legislative.
Under the new legislation, throughout the year general shops may stay open all week, except Sundays. On Wednesdays and Saturdays they will operate from 5am until 8pm during winter time, 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 shops 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.
According to Emilianidou, if the legislation is indeed referred by the President, the previous status – that is dated back in 2006- will be in place. This stipulates that shops will remain open from 5am to 8pm except for Wednesday when shops will close at 3pm. On Saturday the shops will close at 7pm while all shops will be closed on Sunday.
Emilianidou was highly critical of the MPs. “It is absurd to believe that we can legally regulate the market and dictate to consumers where to shop. The way to protect small to medium businesses is not through legislation. This is an antiquated notion. If that is the case, why stop at general shops? Why not regulate restaurants too? Why not pass legislation stipulating for example that large restaurants must be closed on Sunday so smaller restaurants can benefit,” jabbed Emilianidou.
The labour minister said that allowing shops to open on Sunday – the minister issued a number of decrees since last year and only stopped after parliament stripped her of that authority – has created over 10,000 jobs in retail. Opposition parties contest that figure. Emilianidou was also critical on that.
“The same people that claim that no new jobs were created are the same ones who warned businessmen to not fire employees they hired,” she said.
Emilianidou was referring to a statement made by retail magnate Nicos Shacolas, who warned MPs on Thursday that he would be forced to fire 1,208 people if he was not allowed to keep his shops open on Sunday.
In a press release on Friday, Shacolas said that he would not be immediately firing the 1,208 employees and went on to attack the parliament.
“The legislation passed is catastrophic, dysfunctional, unenforceable and discriminates between shop owners. The parliament was wrong in passing this legislation since it doesn’t serve the public interest,” he said.
Main opposition AKEL general-secretary Andros Kyprianou said that referring the legislation to the Supreme Court was “wrong and puts the interests of a handful of businessmen over the small business owners.”
AKEL had claimed that small business owners cannot compete with big retail shops, since they cannot afford to stay open on a Sunday.