Impasse over extending shop opening hours

Talks between the government and traders’ representatives yesterday on extending shop opening hours failed to achieve any result, as businesses questioned the State’s arguments on the supposed benefits of the move. The parties, however, agreed to meet next month for further discussion. The government has been pushing hard for a change to the existing hours, citing the expected mass inflow of tourists for the Olympic Games next year. «We must overhaul the framework in light of the new conditions which have arisen,» Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas said. Pivotal to this was the creation of jobs, enhancing businesses’ competitiveness and satisfying consumers’ demands, he stressed. The current schedule for shop opening hours came into force in 1997 after months of dispute between traders and trade unionists. The agreement allowed for shops to open until 8 p.m. from Mondays to Fridays in winter and until 9 p.m. in summer. Shops could stay open for business until 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Only shops catering to tourists could open for business on Sundays. Opening times are at the discretion of each employer. Prior to the agreement, shops were allowed to open around-the-clock after the then government passed legislation to deregulate shop opening hours. While the government’s proposals include shops opening an additional evening a week and extending Saturday opening hours to 8 p.m., they do not include abolishing the current restriction on Sunday trading, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said. Reppas cited the need to harmonize shop opening hours countrywide. «There are many areas in Greece where different shops open on Sundays. How can we allow this illegal activity which is however a fact of life in many parts of the country?» he said. He also drew a line between shop opening hours and working hours, saying workers’ rights would be respected. Traders’ representatives expressed fears that extending shop opening hours could drive small shops out of business. It was also doubtful whether new jobs would be created. They also questioned the need to overhaul the existing scheduled hours. Trade union body GSEE criticized the State’s intervention in the issue.

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