End of the Sunday shopping ban

Just one year of its entry into force, the Hungarian Government has bowed to social and political pressure and repealed the Act which prohibited work on Sundays in most retail shops, and which limited shop opening hours on other days to the hours between 4:30 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. The bill was passed by the Parliament on 12 April 2016 in summary proceedings the day after it was introduced. The repealing Act was published on 15 April end entered into effect on 16 April, 2016.

The Sunday shopping ban was a rather unpopular measure, which was widely criticised for unreasonably interfering with customers’ shopping habits, reducing the wages of employees working in the retail sector and leading to redundancy. On 23 February, the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party submitted a proposal for a referendum on the annulment of the Act and began to collect the signatures needed to secure the referendum.

The sudden repeal of the Act without any prior consultation poses difficulties to retail businesses, including in regard to the organization of work. Several further Acts related to Sunday trading will also need to be amended.

Furthermore, a large number of people are opposed to the reinstatement of Sunday opening, particularly those employed in retail. The critics of the change draw attention in particular to the low number of employees in the sector and problems stemming from the re-introduction of night work. They also criticize the lack of prior information and consultation. Another concern of employees is that the amendment sets back the amount of the Sunday allowance to 50%; the allowance had previously been increased from 50 % to 100 % by the repealed Act. As a consequence of the changes some trade union leaders have threatened to initiate strike action.

The Government is planning to modify the provisions regarding the Sunday supplement in the Autumn. Representative bodies have described the present situation for both employers and employees in the commercial sector as unsustainable and call for swift changes. However, the Government says the question of who might be affected by the modifications and in what way is still under discussion. Also the subject of negotiation is a suggestion that it would be preferable to provide at least two free Sundays in a month for commercial workers.

It is also important to note that, in the meantime, the referendum initiative submitted by the socialist party remains valid unless it is declared unreasoned by the Constitutional Court.