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Our View: Legal conundrum means market forces will determine shop hours

THE SAGA of the shop opening hours had to end in farce, all branches of power – executive, judiciary, legislative – combining to prove, in a way, superfluous.

The key was the legislative’s re-defining of the powers of the executive, in March last year, by abolishing the authority of the labour minister to issue decrees on shop opening hours and giving this power to the Council of Ministers. Instead of challenging this unconstitutional measure, the government mistakenly played along with it, until the legislature decided to reject the opening hours submitted by the Council of Ministers. The legislature had ignored an earlier Supreme Court ruling, which said the legislature had violated the separation of powers in trying to legislate new shopping hours, which were deemed null and void.

In the end, with the legislature rejecting the government proposals submitted in December, the 2006 law prohibiting Sunday opening came back into force from January this year. A big supermarket, which had ignored the old law and had been fined for opening on Sundays, appealed against the decision and won. The district court found the 2006 law unconstitutional.

Meanwhile on Monday, the Supreme Court washed its hands of the dispute, when the majority of judges rejected the president’s appeal challenging the legislature’s power to reject or amend proposals of the government, as it had done in December. Its reasoning was that the real issue was the March 2015 decision of the legislature to abolish the power of the labour minister to issue decrees. The government should have appealed against that decision, within the month stipulated by the constitution, but its failure to do so, meant the Supreme Court could not interfere in the matter. It was a peculiar decision, as the Supreme Court kept a decision that was a blatant violation of the constitution, in place, because an appeal had not been filed within the stipulated month.

Not that this really matters, because the result of this legal conundrum, is the best possible outcome. Shops are now completely free to open whenever and for however long their owners choose. Now, it is not the government, the labour minister or political parties that will decide shop opening hours but the market itself. Shops will stay open for as long as there are people walking through their doors, without having to deal with ministry inspectors demanding explanations and imposing fines.

In this long-overdue, free-market arrangement there is no way shops will be closed on Sundays, the day so many thousands of people choose to do their shopping. As long as shop-workers’ rights are respected and they are not obliged to work extra hours for no extra pay, this is the best possible arrangement.


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