By Elias Hazou
THE House decided on Thursday to appeal to the Supreme Court a government decision to issue a decree allowing shops to remain open on Sundays.
The appeal is grounded in article 139 of the Constitution concerning conflict of powers between the executive and the legislature.
The decree extending Sunday shopping was issued by the Labour minister on May 13, following a cabinet decision. The decree is valid until November 30.
Under the law, parliament has 30 days in which to appeal a government decree or decision.
Essentially, parliament is challenging the minister’s legal right to issue the decree in question, because the issue of shop hours was regulated by a law passed earlier by the House.
In early May, opposition parties passed legislation barring most, but not all, stores from operating on Sundays.
The President refused to sign off on the bill and referred it to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional (discriminates between businesses) and impinges on the right to engage in profitable labour freely and without hindrance.
Additionally, the Attorney-general – the government’s legal counsel – argues that the law goes against public interest, and has listed a number of reasons why adopting it would be harmful to the economy.
A ruling in parliament’s favour would also annul the minister’s decree.
The top court will hear the president’s referral on June 3.
The government claims that 16,000 jobs have been created since extended retail hours were implemented in the summer of 2013.
But the opposition counters that the measure – particularly Sunday shopping – has benefited large retailers, which can afford to stay open longer hours, to the detriment of small outfits.
Under the previous regimen, the 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. The last such decree expired at the end of April, with parliament forcing the issue to be regulated by law.