By George Psyllides
The cabinet on Wednesday decided to issue a new decree allowing shops across the island to remain open on Sundays, prompting the reaction of parties and organisations that oppose the measure.
Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou also announced a new scheme to support small and medium businesses (SMEs) by covering 60 per cent of the cost of hiring a new employee to allow them to remain open on Sundays.
“We are giving these businesses an incentive to be able to hire a new employee at a low cost, so that they remain open,” the minister said.
Any business employing up to four workers is considered an SME.
The decree comes 24 hours before the minister’s right to issue such orders expires, following a decision by parliament.
Emilianidou said the new decree is expected to be in effect until the end of November.
The minister said the attorney-general had given the go ahead.
“We have the opinion of the AG that issuing this decree is possible,” the minister said.
Without it, the market would have reverted to the 2006 law, which provided for closed shops on Sundays, and Wednesday afternoon. Shops closed at 7.30pm on Saturday.
The government will also send back to parliament as unconstitutional, a bill passed by opposition parties banning general stores – such as department stores, malls and supermarkets – from opening on Sundays.
The bill provides that general shops could be open all week but had to close on Sundays throughout the year. On Wednesdays and Saturdays they can open from 5am until 8pm during winter, and 5am until 9pm in the summer.
Exempt from this general Sunday prohibition, but only for the summer season, are shops in designated tourist areas – 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.
Longer shopping hours, including Sundays, had been introduced by the government in 2013 in a bid to boost the economy following the island’s messy bailout in March 2013.
The opposition passed the bill last week despite warnings that it would lead to layoffs and ultimately hurt the economy as it tried to get back on track.
Parliament can either accept the president’s refusal to sign the bill into law, or reject it and let the matter be settled by the Supreme Court.
Emilianidou brushed off suggestions that it would lead to a clash with parliament.
A law appearing unconstitutional had to be referred to the Supreme Court, the minister said.
“We could not allow the situation – all shops to be closed during the summer period,” the minister said. “This would create huge problems and that is why we are required to go ahead with a solution that essentially is for the public interest.”
Main opposition AKEL said issuing a decree was a conscious choice for a head-on confrontation with parliament, the workers, and thousands of SMEs.
It was an undemocratic act of undermining the institutions and legality, party spokesman Giorgos Loukaides said.
Small shop owners said they would file an appeal with the Supreme Court and threatened to sue the minister for damages, describing her actions and “completely arbitrary and illegal.”
Through their union, POVEK, they said others organisations have also decided to follow suit, including bakers, butchers, and store owners in the old town of Nicosia.
POVEK claimed that the minister no longer had the right to issue decrees, which should be done through regulations that the government must submit to parliament for approval.
POVEK accused the government of protecting the interests of a small group of large businesses.
DIKO MP Angelos Votsis, considered the architect of the bill passed last week, said the minister’s action would raise huge legal issues.
Votsis echoed POVEK in saying that Emilianidou did not have a right to issue a decree.
He said that the bill revoking the minister’s right to issue decrees had been signed into law by the president but ruling DISY asked for its implementation to be postponed pending a final decision on the matter.
“Parliament approved DISY’s proposal, which said law would come into effect on May 15,” Votsis said.
From then on, shopping hours would set by regulations approved by parliament, he said.
The DIKO MP said they had also consulted lawyers who said the minister can issue decrees until May 15, “but it cannot be in force after that date.”
The chamber of commerce and industry, KEVE, said they were in favour of the minister having a right to issue decrees regulating the market.
“We believe the right should be given back until the Supreme Court decided,” KEVE general secretary Marios Tsiakkis said.
KEVE said the bill passed by the opposition was unconstitutional because it was in conflict with provisions on free economy and the market.
“And this is where it will be judged and not on whether we like it either as businessmen or union members,” Tsiakkis said.