From Madrid to Oslo, Sundays are less sacred
As Poland plans to phase out work on Sundays, we look at shopping laws in other European states
“Open on Sundays” is a sign that, since the 1990s, has been increasingly seen outside shops across Europe.
From Spain to Norway, via France, the United Kingdom and even Germany, this deregulation trend has caught on as a result of the liberal ideas that began to become fashionable in the 1980s.
In 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, 29 percent of EU employees across all sectors worked at least one Sunday a month. Eleven percent worked three a month.
The relevant legislation is the responsibility of individual states, not the commission in Brussels.
Several EU states place no restrictions at all on Sunday trading. Aside from Sweden and Denmark, these are mostly former communist bloc countries which inherited laws that were particularly liberal on the issue. They include Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia and Lithuania.
In some countries, total liberalization was set in motion by the financial crisis of 2007–2008. Such was the case in Italy where all restrictions on Sunday trading were lifted by the January 2012 “Save Italy” decree.
In Greece “Sunday opening was among the conditions of the Second Memorandum of Understanding in 2012,” explained Alkiviadis Athanasiadis from Lorraine University. Thus in 2013, a law was passed “allowing shops with a surface area under 250 square meters to open every Sunday of the year. For the others, opening was limited to seven Sundays a year.”
In the UK, small shops face no restrictions, while larger ones are limited to opening for six continuous hours on Sundays.
France, however, takes a more Jacobin approach, with Sunday rest being the rule in most of the retail sector, although there are some exceptions. In Belgium, shops can open for 21 Sundays every year.
In Portugal and the Netherlands, it’s up to local authorities. The same is true in Spain, where shops and tourist hotspots are free to open when they want.
In Germany, where Sunday is widely seen as a day reserved for social gatherings, Sunday trading is in principle prohibited by federal law, but individual states enjoy some room for maneuver. Berlin allows trading on eight Sundays a year whereas Bavaria imposes a total prohibition.
German trade unions, churches and associations fiercely resist liberalization and as a result there are no moves to broaden Sunday trading.
Austria is the only EU state to resist any form of Sunday trading.
Poland is not alone in trying to turn back the clock. An attempt was made in Hungary, but in the end people’s enthusiasm for shopping carried the day.
In Italy, the subject is back on the table. Ahead of legislative elections on March 5, the Five Star Movement, the Northern League and the Episcopal Conference have proposed banning work on Sundays.
But generally, the trend in Europe is to make Sundays like any other day. And there is a snowball effect from one country to another, and also between the main tourist centers which are trying to cash in on the purchasing power of foreigners.
Consequently, we can expect wage compensation for Sunday work — which varies from one country to another — to eventually disappear when Sunday work becomes ubiquitous.