New store hours

New shopping hours that came into effect last Saturday were met with little and sporadic opposition from store employees, acts that were likely symbolic in nature. Scuffles between staff and customers at some central department stores in Athens and Thessaloniki were so minor that one can assume they will not be repeated. One can also suppose that all those concerned will rapidly adapt to the new hours. There is no need to point out that longer shopping hours will be a boon to consumers, who will no longer have to rush after work to the supermarket before it closes. Larger stores hope to increase their turnover and are already adjusting to the new hours. However, store employees – as well as owners of the many smaller establishments where the staff consists of the owners themselves and perhaps two or three members of their own family – have their reservations about the new regulations. Owners of these smaller stores deserve everyone’s sympathy, since it will be difficult for them to survive in the current competitive environment. But it is illogical for the state to try to help them by preserving anachronistic structures that have held back the Greek economy and prevented the most dynamic businesses – in this case merchants – from boosting business. Employees in larger stores are worried about the upheaval to their lives, since their employers will have the right to set their working hours, which, on some days, might be as many as 11 and others as few as five. Even worse, working hours on a particular day could be staggered, meaning staff will either have to hang around at work in the hours in between or wander the streets, if they do not live near their place of work. Those employed in small stores feel threatened with having to work 10-12 hours a day without being able to claim overtime pay. Given the swelling ranks of the unemployed, there are plenty of people ready to take their place if they make unwelcome claims on their employers. The government, which is trying to create more jobs with these new shopping hours, should not underestimate this danger. A strict adherence to labor legislation is even more important now, not only to avert these side effects and to assuage the fears of store employees, but, above all, to achieve the goal of modernization, which is what the government is trying to achieve by extending shopping hours.

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