In late May this year a group of MPs proposed a new Bill to the Polish Parliament expressly prohibiting shop work on Sundays. It follows a ban on shop work on public holidays introduced into the Polish Labour Code in 2007.
In Poland work on Sundays is allowed only in a number of defined instances, the most common being transport, agriculture, gastronomy, hospitality, security, healthcare, social care, culture and tourism and some shift work. The new proposal is to exclude from those allowed to work on Sundays people employed in trade (wholesale, retail or internet). However, in our view this is one of those ideas which appears to have some superficial merit when conceived in principle over a drink or at an unopposed party political meeting, but which begins to struggle as soon as matters of detail or economic reality are allowed to intrude.
The Bill lists a number of claimed social and economic reasons for such a prohibition.
- Firstly, Sunday in Poland is historically a day for being with your family. No heed is paid to the possibility that people may go shopping as a family, or indeed that others may see a spot of retail therapy as a welcome respite from the family. There is no allowance for those who do not live in a traditional family unit.
- Secondly, according to the proponents, not all shops need to open on Sundays to fulfil people’s everyday needs. Reading between the lines, the ban will exclude family shops where owners who are not employees may wish to work on Sundays. This assumes of course that family is not so important for this group and that people wish to or can pay more for shopping on Sundays.
- Thirdly, very good social outcomes for the ban are predicted, like a whole new quality of life for the families of those working in trade on Sundays. They will be able to “nurture their family as a basic society unit”. It will also help to protect the families of shopaholics “forced” to shop on Sundays or those acting under influence of advertisements. Is that not what advertisements are for? Did I miss something?
- Fourthly, this is a new chance for cultural, city centre and park venues to become more popular and attractive than closed suburban shopping malls (no comment) and so benefit the holistic physical and cultural health of the Polish population.
- Fifthly, it is going to positively influence the demographics of our country by contributing (putting it delicately) to a growth in the birth rate (much the same way as long winter and blackouts, opponents say, or a night of really rubbish television). Despite Poland’s currently falling birth rate, the societal issue of whether it is sensible to encourage the conception of children by couples one or both of whom would sooner be out shopping is a separate question.
- And foremost, the majority of people in Poland apparently just do not approve of women working on Sundays in trade because they have an important role to play in family life and the upbringing of children. Opponents of the Bill say that trade often offers the only chance of employment to young and 50+ employees, and that this represents by far the greater benefit to society and to them as individuals.
Interestingly, no serious negative economic effects of the ban are listed. Some short term “inconvenience” is anticipated, consisting of layoffs estimated between 25,000 – 50,000 people working in trade. Though this is no doubt more than a little “inconvenient” to those concerned, the MPs say that longer term, this is likely to be overcome by increased employment in culture and tourism (those working in trade for minimum national wage somehow are not so optimistic). And people spend anyway what they have to spend, say the MPs – not more and not less, so it is not so important if they do it on Friday, Monday or Sunday (opponents pointing out that this may be true for groceries only and that shopping habits in Poland are rather more complex than this when one looks at them in detail).
The Bill is vague as to the line between tourism and retail, one being permitted under the new proposals and the other not. If I work in a Krakow or Warsaw centre store where tourists may want and expect to be able to part with their spending money on a Sunday, would I be able to work or not? In addition, if I am not the owner of a family shop but am an employee key to its successful operation on a Sunday, what then?
Quite surprisingly, this Bill comes to the light at the same time as another Bill on anti-crisis measures which is estimated to protect tens of thousands jobs and as changes are proposed to the Polish Working Time Regulations giving more flexibility to employers and extend the reference periods for the calculation of average working time. In addition, this Bill was proposed just 10 days after another one seeking to expand the list of work allowed on Sundays was filed with the Parliament. This one specifically states that work on Sundays and public holidays is allowed when working for foreign entrepreneurs using electronic means of communication or for the foreign branch or representative office of a Polish entrepreneur where the weekly days offs are different from Polish employers. This is presumably aimed at the Gulf States and other wealthy countries which have Sunday as a normal working day.
Do I have to shop on Sundays? No. Is this the right time to implement these measures in Poland? Absolutely not. While the maintenance of family and cultural life is obviously a worthy aim, it will surely come second to the need to keep traders as busy as possible for as long as possible.