Saturday, March 31, 2018

Stores shut in Poland as Sunday trade ban takes effect

Last updated 05:00, April 1 2018

Czarek Sokolowski/AP

Polish shops will close on Sundays, having enjoyed more liberal trading laws since the 1990s.

A new Polish law banning almost all trade on Sundays has taken effect, with large supermarkets and most other retailers shut for the first time since liberal shopping laws were introduced in the 1990s after communism's collapse.

The law was introduced by leading trade union Solidarity which wants employees to be able to rest and spend time with their families, and was approved by the conservative and pro-Catholic ruling party.

Pro-business opposition parties have decried it as a blow to commercial freedom and warn that tens of thousands of workers could lose their jobs.

The new law at first bans trade two Sundays per month, but steps it up to three Sundays in 2019 and finally all Sundays in 2020, except before the Easter and Christmas holidays.

The change is stirring up a range of emotions in a country where many feel workers are exploited under the liberal regulations of the past years, but many Poles also see consumer freedom as one of the most tangible benefits of the free market era.

In Hungary, another ex-communist country, a ban on Sunday trade that was imposed in 2015 was so unpopular that authorities repealed it the next year.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, including Germany and Austria, people have long been accustomed to the day of commercial rest and appreciate the chance to escape the compulsion to shop.

Solidarity's push for the law change found the support of the conservative and pro-Catholic ruling party, Law and Justice. The influential Catholic church, to which more than 90 per cent of Poles belong, has also welcomed the change.

Seventy-six year-old Barbara Olszewska, saw it as a good think as she did some last-minute shopping Saturday evening in Warsaw.

``A family should be together on Sundays," she said..

Before she retired, Olszewska said, she sold cold cuts in a grocery store, and was grateful that she never had to work Sundays.

But pro-business opposition parties warn that the change will lead to a loss of jobs, and in particular hurt students who only have time to work to fund their studies on the weekends.

Even the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions opposes it, arguing that it will just push employees to work longer hours Fridays and Saturdays and that the work will be harder because there will be more customers.

Poles are among the hardest-working citizens in the European Union and some complain that Sundays are sometimes the only days they have free time to shop.

Another last-minute shopper on Saturday evening, Daniel Wycech, 26, saw more drawbacks than benefits.

``It's not really a problem to do more shopping a day ahead of time, but if something breaks in my kitchen or bathroom on a Sunday, there will be no way to go to the store and fix it," said Wycech, an accountant.

There are some exceptions to the ban. For instance, gas stations, cafes, ice cream parlours, pharmacies and some other businesses are allowed to keep operating Sundays.

Stores at airports and train stations will also be allowed to open, as will small mom-and-pop shops, but only on the condition that only the owners themselves work.

Anyone infringing the new rules faces a fine of up to 100,000 zlotys (NZ$40,063), while repeat offenders may face a prison sentence.

Mateusz Kica, a 29-year-old tram driver in Warsaw, did his weekly shopping early Saturday to avoid the huge crowds he expected later in the day. He complained that the new law only relieves shop employees, but that workers like himself will still have to keep working weekends.

``This law isn't really just," Kica said.

- AP

No comments: