By Aaron Ricadela and Claudia Rach Dec 12, 2014 4:50 AM ET
A closed sign sits in a store window in Berlin.
In Germany, where hard work is prized, one day of the week remains sacred for rest.
While neighbor France this week announced plans to loosen restrictions on Sunday work, Germany is tightening regulations on the few businesses that had been allowed to open.
Setting aside the day for coffee and cake with family and friends has been ingrained in German society for a century. The country’s ban on stores being open, which stretches back to 1919 during theWeimar Republic, was enshrined in the West German constitution after World War II and is still protected. Labor unions and churches oppose any effort to relax rules.
“As few employees as possible should have to work on a Sunday,” Hans Ulrich Anke, the head of the Evangelical Church in Germany, said in a statement. “Pure economic and competition interests must take second place to that.”
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is at odds with a trend across the region in recent years to liberalize labor laws that previously kept stores closed on Sundays. As a result, the country’s bricks-and-mortar shops risk missing out on sales as they face stiffer competition from Internet retailers.
Two weeks ago, Germany’s top administrative court stopped the state of Hesse -- home to the country’s financial capital of Frankfurt -- from letting libraries, video stores and lottery sellers operate on Sundays, ruling it was protecting the right of workers to have the day off.
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“This is a disaster,” said Moty Einanlo, a 38-year-old owner of a video outlet in Frankfurt who says he does twice as much business on Sunday as other days of the week. “Who’s going to pay my bills?”
The Hesse decision was in line with a 2009 ruling by the constitutional court striking down a law in Berlin that allowed stores to open on all four Sundays before Christmas. Berlin now lets shops open only on two Sundays during the Advent season, and they can’t be on consecutive weekends.
“The problem is ever-longer opening hours,” said Eva Voelpel, a spokeswoman for the Ver.di union in Berlin. “There’s always less time and quiet moments for families.”
Nowadays, the country allows shopping on a handful of Sundays and public holidays, usually linked to the Christmas shopping season and special events.
Germany’s 16 states decide their own regulations for shopping on other days of the week, with some liberalizing rules to the point that shops can be open all the time if they so choose. Others are much more restrictive. Bavaria only lets stores open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The country’s HDE retailers association says it can’t do much to relax Sunday restrictions given the constitutional protection, and is instead focusing on pushing for fewer regulations during the rest of the week.
“We’re in favor of a countrywide rule for store hours from Monday through Saturday that would allow merchants to decide for themselves when they want to be open,” Stefan Genth, head of the association, said in an e-mailed statement. “This would allow for more fairness and a leveler playing field with online stores.”
Berlin-based Internet retailer Zalando SE (ZAL), targeting 2.2 billion euros ($2.73 billion) inrevenue this year, said Saturdays and Sundays are its strongest shopping days. Sales on some weekends account for more than half of weekly revenue because customers are home, spokesman Boris Radke said.
“All the big chains would love to have Sunday shopping,” said Chris Chaviaras, a European retail analyst at Barclays Plc in London.
Germany is out of step with European neighbors. France announced a plan Dec. 10 to loosen Sunday shopping restrictions as part of Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron’s effort to free up business and bolster growth. His bill proposes extending the number of Sunday openings to 12 a year from five, as well as allow year-round shopping for stores in certain tourist areas.
In Italy, Sunday has become one of the week’s biggest shopping days since the government decided in 2011 to let stores freely decide opening hours. In Sweden and Finland shops have been allowed to open seven-days-a-week for some years.
Many Germans simply shrug their shoulders at their neighbors.
“Sunday is somehow sacred for being together,” said Dorothee Decker, a 27-year-old student at the Technical University in Berlin, adding that she instead shops online when she can’t find what she wants in a store.
For Related News and Information: France to Loosen Sunday Shopping Rules, Speed Firings in New Law Hesse Rules on Sunday Work Partly Void, German Top Court Rules French Executives Won’t Face Jail for Breaching Labor Rules
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