Reform bills on table

A draft bill to extend the opening hours of shops, key to government efforts to boost the economy, was submitted yesterday to Parliament and is expected to pass by the end of the month. A parliamentary committee will begin debating the bill on Wednesday. Later next week, the government will submit its bill regarding changes to weekly work hours that will allow businesses to extend employees’ work hours at peak activity periods without, however, increasing the hours worked over a year. This bill is also expected to pass before the end of the month. There has been significant outcry against both bills, with small merchants arguing that longer opening hours for shops will benefit big supermarket chains and will «destroy» small businesses. Employees have also opposed the measure, even though it is supposed to create more jobs. Unions are strongly opposed to the bill on more flexible work schedules. The bill on shops’ hours creates a single regime throughout the country. Until now, it was up to each prefecture to set its own shop opening hours, in consultation with local merchants. The bill provides for shops to close at 9 p.m. from Monday to Friday and at 8 p.m. on Saturday. In the Athens area, this translates into an extension of half an hour on weekdays and two hours on Saturday. Each prefecture may decide to extend shopping hours for its own reasons, with the agreement of shopowners. Winter sales will henceforth begin on January 20, or the first Monday after that date, if it falls on a weekend, and last five weeks. Summer sales will begin on July 15 and last six weeks. Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos, who will submit the bill on work hours, defended it against the accusation that it will, essentially, abolish the eight-hour daily limit, saying that, on the contrary, the bill safeguards employees against illegal employer demands for extra unpaid work.

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