Polish trade unions canvassing support for Sunday retail ban

Polish trade unions canvassing support for Sunday retail ban
Consumption is the main pillar of Polish economic growth currently, but retailers are facing increasing pressure.
By bne IntelliNews August 9, 2016

Polish trade union Solidarity is on the streets of major cities across the county on August 9 to gather signatures on a petition calling for a limit on retail trade on Sundays, as the region's major retailers continue to face pressure from conservative populism.

Solidarity will need to collect 100,000 signatures by the end of the month to be able to have a draft bill debated by parliament. The trade union has long advocated the introduction of a ban on the opening of shops on Sunday, in the interests, it says, of employees.

Despite opposition from most of the population, limits or bans on Sunday trading have been in the headlines across Central Europe recently, as conservative populist governments have sought to firm their grip on power. Business lobbies claim the moves are aimed at curtailing the large international retailers that dominate the markets, and offering smaller domestic competitors an advantage.

The Polish government did hint that it could consider instituting a ban on Sunday trading during its successful campaign ahead of the elections in October. The powerful Catholic Church has also long said Sunday shopping runs counter to traditional values.

Solidarity's draft bill does not seek a blanket ban. Under the union's proposal, as elsewhere in the region, it is large retail chains which would mostly be targeted. The same retailers are about to start paying a new tax on turnover, which they say is also an attack on foreign investors.

Smaller shops, as well as petrol stations and outlets in railway stations and airports, would be exempt from the ban, according to the text. Trade will also be allowed on seven selected Sundays each year, for example ahead of Christmas or Easter.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been inspired by many policies devised by Hungary's ruling Fidesz party, including taxes introduced on banks and retailers. Hungary, however, abolished a ban on Sunday shopping in April. Introduced the previous year, the limits on shops on the Sabbath had proved exceedingly unpopular, although Fidesz recently said it will discuss modifications to employment rules in the retail sector that could effectively return restrictions.

The Czech Republic recently passed legislation closing shops on national holidays, despite staunch opposition from the population. With the bill only awaiting the president's signature, retailers have threatened to take the matter to the constitutional court and claim it could violate investment agreements.

Solidarity official Alfred Bujara insists a Sunday shopping limit would not hurt retail spending, a major pillar of Polish growth for the meantime, but boost it by encouraging consumers to stock up. On top of that he suggests services will benefit.

“Restricting trading on Sunday will mean that people will find new ways of spending their free time other than going shopping. Restaurants and recreational services will gain from this,” the union leader told PAP.