In Belgium, shopkeepers are limited in their right to trade on Sundays or after 8pm. The Belgian liberal party has introduced a proposal to amend the Statute of 10 November 2006 regarding opening hours in commerce, crafts and services, in order to allow shops to open until 10pm.
Open for business
Currently, shops in Belgium can only be open from 5am until 8pm (or 9pm on Fridays or on days before national holidays). Each shop must, furthermore, close for at least 24 hours starting on Sunday at 5am or 1pm.
Numerous exceptions to these rules apply. The most important exception is the recognition of an area as a tourist area by the Minister of the Economy, which allows shops to open every Sunday of the year and to remain open past 8pm. All coastal communities benefit from this exception.
Even if one manages to obtain the authorization to open past 8pm or on Sundays, the difficulty will be in getting the shop staffed, since, as a general rule, Belgian employment law forbids the employment of staff on Sundays.
A second recognition of an area as a tourist area, now by the Minister of Employment, resolves this problem, but only partially. Such a recognition only allows for employment of personnel on Sundays in the following periods:
- 1 May to 30 September
- Christmas and Easter holidays
- Thirteen additional Sundays a year, to be chosen freely by the undertakings during the remaining periods of the year.
In the retail sector, another six Sundays can be added for undertakings that are members of a particular industry sector (Paritair Comité 201.00).
There is thus a discrepancy between, on the one hand, the possibility for all shops located in tourist areas to be open the whole year (seven days per week) and, on the other hand, the labour law regulations that at best only allow the employment of personnel for 45 Sundays a year. Some indecisive court decisions uphold that the combination of these rules must be assessed per employee, so that the shop can be open on all Sundays, but just not with the same employees working every Sunday.
The proposal of law currently discussed only tackles the issue of the prohibition on opening past 8pm and would thus only benefit independent shopkeepers that do not need employees to operate their business.