Magazine
18:20 14 November 2019
Post by: Warsaw Business Journal

Sunday trade ban – a question of freedom

The ban on Sunday trading was intended to allow families to spend more time with their loved ones. It was supposed to bring people together. But it has had the opposite effect, as discussions about the trade ban continue to divide Poles by Sergiusz Prokurat

Sunday trade ban – a question of freedom

“It is important that Sunday is for the family; that you can spend time together, go to the cinema or theater,” Piotr Duda, the chairman of the Solidarity trade union, said in 2016. On the initiative of the union, a draft law was introduced restricting trade on Sunday, which was applauded by religious circles, including the Catholic Church. This law banning almost all trade on Sundays took effect in 2018, with large supermarkets and most other retailers closed for the first time since liberal shopping laws were introduced in the 1990s after the collapse of communism. President Andrzej Duda, when signing the law on trade-free Sundays, said: “We flipped over the free market, the increase in wealth, freedom, sovereignty and everything that Poland had not had for decades. But in this process, there were also changes that were not good from the point of view of significant values, in particular, those related to the family.”

Statistical data indicates that more than half of Poles shop on Sundays, including one-fifth often and one-third occasionally. The restriction on trade was meant to improve the social situation of employees in the retail sector, especially those who work in large-format stores and small entrepreneurs. It was supposed to change the way Poles spend their free time. The Sunday trade ban, enacted at the beginning of 2018, involved an almost two-year transitional period aimed at the complete closure of stores on that day.

From March 1, 2018, to the end of the year, trading was allowed on the first and last Sunday of the month. From the beginning of 2019, you could only trade on the last Sunday of the month. The m most substantial changes await customers in January 2020, when stores will be open on only seven Sundays a year. On the one hand, it is indisputable that large groups of people have gained the opportunity to relax with their families. On the other hand, there is growing dissent from the middle class, particularly those living in large cities, who feel their freedom to shop when they want has been restricted. In cases where two sides claim their freedom is at stake, it is up to an external arbitrator to determine whose freedom is more important. The state can either give a helping hand to the middle class wanting to shop on Sundays, or side with those who don’t want it. But there are questions as to who the ban is supposed to protect. Retail workers who supposedly wanted to have time off on Sunday are, interestingly, against the ban. Less opportunity to earn income and concerns about layoffs have resulted in a situation where the only proponent of the ban is the strong trade unions, not regular employees. If you count the number of working days in a year, it becomes evident that the number of working days per employee or the number of employees will have to be reduced.

For many people, closed shops on Sundays is a significant problem. Its main side effect is that Saturdays are now the busiest trading day, with crowds storming supermarkets. Stores are crowded, hectic and their employees have more work and responsibilities. The trade ban has affected large families in particular, where it is more difficult to find time for shopping during the week due to the excess of duties. Entrepreneurs complain about the loss of some clients and thus lower income. They say that Sunday was the most profitable day that cannot be compensated for on other days of the week. The loss is even greater, as rent and other fixed costs remain the same. Free Sundays have not given those people more time for the family, because if they want to compensate for the losses, they need to work longer during the week. Moreover, if they work until late hours, they still have to do their own shopping, which means that the time for the family is reduced further. People emphasize that they have been deprived of a choice, rather than being given more freedom.

If we delve into the demographics of trade ban supporters and opponents, the division becomes clear. According to a study by Maison & Partners conducted in December 2018, supporters of keeping stores open are mostly those with higher education, while supporters of closing stores are those with only primary or secondary education. Trade on Sundays is supported by working residents of large cities, and the ban is popular mainly among residents of villages or small towns – where there are no large stores – as well as among the unemployed or people on parental leave.

Restrictions on large stores lead to shifting employment to small stores, which is good for the owners of the latter, but not for customers, who have to pay higher prices. The withdrawal of Tesco hypermarkets from Po- land is closely related to the ban on Sunday trading. Such hypermarkets are stores where you don’t do the shopping in half an hour because it takes more time to get around. They are not the type of store that customers visited after work, so they generally made a profit at weekends, especially on Saturdays and Sundays.


FINDING LOOPHOLES

Poland is not the only country where many people look at large foreign-capital stores with contempt. In Hungary, another ex-communist country, a ban on Sunday trade imposed in 2015 was so unpopular that authorities repealed it the next year. In Poland, although the change in the rules of opening stores has forced people to reorganize their lives, finding time to go shopping during the week is still a problem. The regulation, containing up to 32 exceptions, is sometimes circumvented. For example, there are certain units whose activity, apart from commercial sales, incorporates the additional provision of postal services, which makes trading on Sun- days possible, provided that there are family members of the store owner behind the counter. The condition is that the spouse, children, parents, stepmother or stepfather (informal relationships are not taken into account) cannot be permanently employed in the store. This is the result of the interpretation of existing provisions. Another beneficiary of the ban is Orlen, which boasts in its financial results that its increased income is due to the Sunday trade ban gas stations have turned into shops that operate non-stop.

The law that restricts the choice of where to shop continues to raise controversy. There are those who support it, those who vehemently oppose it, those who suffer losses as well as unexpected “winners.” And 2020 will likely see the conflict escalate.


Trading Sundays in 2020

In 2020, the trade will be allowed on:

January 26

April 5

April 26

June 28

August 30

December 13

December 20



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