The labour ministry warned on Friday that all shops not allowed to remain open on Monday’s bank holiday would be reported for breaking the law.
Shop owners countered that the law was unconstitutional.
Following the announcements of supermarkets and general shop owners earlier in the week that they will open on August 15 despite the labour ministry’s instructions they remain closed, the ministry said the law provides that the specific day is a holiday.
“Everything that has been heard recent days concerning the lack of legislation regulating the issue in question do not correspond to reality,” the ministry said. It added that all those found breaking the law on August 15, would be reported.
“Our announcement was clear. August 15 is a holiday, that is what the law stipulates and general shops must observe this,” the permanent secretary of the labour ministry Andreas Assiotis said.
The ministry also indirectly slammed all those who insisted, and succeeded last year, in having parliament strip the labour minister of her right to issue decrees on shops hours, which it said had backfired on them.
The comment was referring to small shop owners’ union POVEK, which was last year at the forefront of the campaign to close shops on Sundays. The bill was passed last May with the votes of opposition parties AKEL, DIKO, and EDEK. POVEK is against extended shop hours as it believes it harms small businesses who cannot afford to hire extra staff.
Despite the warnings of the attorney-general and the ministry itself, the announcement said, the parliament made law amendments which later “were deemed by the judiciary as unconstitutional and non-applicable”. This left opening hours in limbo and effectively liberalised.
“All those who, by ignoring documented positions, advice and warnings about the consequences, deregulated the sector in question by stripping the labour minister of the power to regulate employment hours in general stores, have now turned into prosecutors and attempt to pass responsibility to the ministry of labour for the situation that they themselves have created,” it said.
Following a number of court rulings and disagreements between the government and opposition parties as to whether the legislative body had the right to decide on issues like shop hours, the old law from 2006 regulating shops’ working hours was triggered, which did not allow them to work on Sundays.
But in the ruling of an appeal filed by C.A. Papaellinas Ltd against a fine imposed by the government for opening its Alpha Mega supermarket on a Sunday, the Nicosia district court said the 2006 law was unconstitutional, thus leaving the issue unregulated.
Assiotis said that the labour ministry was calling on all stakeholders to participate in a dialogue aiming to find common ground between all sides, “having in mind all possible consequences”.
Ignoring the second ministry announcement, retail associations insist that the law in question is unconstitutional and they will open their shops on August 15.
According to Marios Antoniou, the general secretary of the biggest retailers’ association, which represents supermarkets, it is up to the courts to decide whether they are breaking the law, should their members open on August 15.
“Nothing changes for us, we heard nothing new from the ministry,” Antoniou said.
He added that in January, when the 2006 law was triggered and shops had to remain closed on Sundays, the same thing happened.
“We were reported… presented before court, we were acquitted and an article of the law was deemed as unconstitutional,” Antoniou said.
He nevertheless called on the labour ministry to report all those businesses that will be open on August 15 but who will not have given their employees the benefits required by law for holiday work, such as double pay.