By George Psyllides
The government was consulting with the attorney-general over its next move following Thursday’s rejection by parliament of labour ministry regulations governing shop hours.
In a clear disregard of the constitution and the best interests of thousands of workers, opposition parties on Thursday rejected the government’s regulations on shop hours, thus forcing a return to the law of 2006 when shops across the island could not open on Sundays or Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
This also includes tourist areas.
As things stand, only convenience stores and bakeries can remain open during those days and hours.
All along throughout the saga, the opposition accused the government of serving the interests of big businesses.
However, observers suggest that MPs were in fact working for convenience stores and bakeries, whose operations had been hurt in the past two-and-half years since the government decided to keep shops open on Sundays across the island and not just in certain ‘tourist’ areas, in a bid to stimulate the all but collapsed economy.
Opposition parties claimed the decision forced small businesses to close down en masse. But while presenting that argument, they also proposed a compromise – keeping shops open on Sundays for six months a year.
Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou said the rejection will cause a “big problem” for the thousands of workers hired after the government decision in 2013,
“What about the workers during the six months when shops will be closed?” Emilianidou said, adding that they would have to go on the dole. “This can’t be a solution.”
“Apart from this, I haven’t heard one argument on how it would help small businesses to be open for six months and closed for six,” she told state radio.
Emilianidou said the state respected the laws and the constitution and at the moment, the law in force – after the holidays — was the one passed in 2006.
However, the opposition’s decision make come back to haunt them sooner than they think as retailers were not prepared to go down without a fight.
“The matter is not closed. On the contrary, it is just starting,” retail trade association spokesman Marios Antoniou said.
Armed with the recent Supreme Court decision, the association was discussing the issue with its legal advisers to decide its next steps.
“All possibilities are open. Even the scenario of shops remaining open on Sundays as they had done in the past two-and-a-half years between 11 am and 7 pm,” he said.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that a law passed by parliament to regulate shop hours violated the principle of separation of powers. The court argued that the House may legislate broadly on matters, setting the framework within which the executive branch of government may operate.
In this case, the court said, parliament passed a law distinguishing between shops according to their size and the products they sell, the area they are located in, affording some shops extended operating hours and restricting those of others.
This runs counter to the labour minister’s explicit right to set shops’ operating hours, after consulting with legally-prescribed advisory committees at district level.
“There is no doubt the regulations have been rejected but we can’t ignore the Supreme Court’s decision that makes it crystal clear whose authority it is to regulate hours,” Antoniou said.
Some say a challenge before a court may effectively result in the liberalisation of shop hours.
The retail association is well aware of this possibility.
The fact that parliament contravened the constitution may be their biggest weapon if they challenge the decision in court.
“If shops open on (Sunday) January 3 and they are fined and brought before justice, there is a serious question that must be addressed,” Antoniou said. “What will prevail?”
Legal issues aside, the parliament’s decision has caused distress to the thousands of workers who would see their revenues dwindle, at best.
Antoniou pledged that no jobs would be lost, but the decision, if applied eventually, would mean less working hours.
An employee working an average 28 hours could see half their hours, and wages, gone – six on Wednesday and eight on Sunday.
“It is taking away a significant number of working hours, which corresponds with 50 per cent of their income,” he said.