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Cyprus

Shop hours bill sent to Supreme Court

By Angelos Anastasiou

President Nicos Anastasiades has referred the bill regulating shop working hours, passed by parliament earlier this month, to the Supreme Court, arguing it violates a constitutional provision for every citizen to engage in profitable labour freely and without hindrance.

The referral was submitted to the Supreme Court by Attorney-general Costas Clerides, following instructions by Anastasiades.

The law seeks to regulate the working hours of retailers, discriminating between ‘general’ shops and ‘specialised’ ones – souvenir shops, handicraft shops, jewelleries, and mini-markets up to 150 square metres in size.

Under the provisions of the law, general shops would be forbidden from working on Sundays, and a tighter daily working schedule would be established, allowing them to stay open only until 9 pm.

But while being allowed to open Sundays, specialised shops would also suffer tighter regulations in their work schedule, as they would be allowed to work until 10 pm – as opposed to an hour later, under the old regime.

Complicating matters further, the new law also established ‘tourist zones’ – Ayia Napa and Protaras in Famagusta, Polis Chrysochous, Neo Chorio, and the Coral Bay in Paphos, and the walled city of Nicosia – in which general shops were to be exempt from the imposed restrictions.

But, the AG argued in his referral letter, article 25 of the Cyprus Constitution affords every citizen the right to gainful employment, and any legal restriction of this right must be “proportional” and “adequately justified” by the lawmaker.

“The parliament failed to demonstrate either [proportionality and adequate justification], as the parliamentary report attempt unsuccessfully to argue in support of the flexible and favourable work schedule afforded shops within the tourist areas, but completely ignoring the working hour limitations imposed on all shops outside these,” Clerides argued.

Therefore, he added, the law could be said to violate the constitution.

Additionally, the AG argued that the law goes against public interest, listing a number of reasons why adopting it would be harmful to the economy.

Of roughly 16,000 jobs created since working hours were liberalised by ministerial decree – July 2013 – more than half paid monthly salaries of over €800, and almost 11,000 remain employed at the same post to this day, the AG argued.

This did not only contribute to the increase of average income, but also of Social Insurance contributions and taxes received by the state. Conversely, it helped decrease social spending items such unemployment benefits.

The referral was accompanied by a letter from the Labour ministry, in which the above figures were confirmed and analysed.

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