Fierce battle expected over bill which would restrict shopping hours

Photo: Jan Rosenauer

A bill which would restrict shopping hours on public holidays is back on Parliament’s agenda and is once again meeting with fierce opposition from entrepreneurs. With a vote expected in the coming days the Association of Trade and Tourism and the Czech Business Chamber are scrambling to dissuade MPs from supporting the proposed restrictions.

Photo: Jan Rosenauer
The Czech Republic has one of the densest networks of supermarkets and shopping malls on the continent with almost no restrictions on opening hours. Weekends and public holidays are particularly busy with people taking advantage of the free time to loiter and spend more. On public holidays sales profits double and the idea of a law which would force supermarkets and shopping malls to close their doors has met with opposition both from entrepreneurs and the public.

Under the draft bill proposed by the Social Democratic Party and approved by the Senate all stores of a size over 200 square meters would have to close on eight of the country’s twelve public holidays, which were selected as particularly significant. The bill has won broad support among the Social Democrats, Communists and Christian Democrats who argue that the Czech Republic should follow the example of its European neighbors and give public holidays the dignity they deserve. Christian Democrat deputy Jiří Mihola swept aside objections that the bill would have negative economic impacts.

“The goods that people buy on public holidays will simply be bought in advance or at some other time. And the potential benefit of this law is that it will lead to families spending more time together instead of spending it at the supermarket.”

The argument against excessive consumerism on public holidays and families spending quality time together has come under fire from the bills critics who argue that the state should not try to educate the public or tell people where to spend their free time. Similarly, arguments that supermarket employees who are mostly women should be able to spend public holidays with their families, has come under fire on the grounds that it would discriminate people in other professions who also have to work on public holidays. Vladimír Dlouhý, President of the Czech Business Chamber says entrepreneurs will do their utmost to persuade lawmakers not to approve the proposed restrictions.

“We feel that it is quite absurd for the state to tell salespeople when they may or may not sell their goods or to tell people when they may or may not shop.”

With deputies fiercely divided on the issue, the Committee for Business in the lower house has proposed a compromise amendment – it suggests that the restrictions should not pertain to shopping malls of over 500 square meters and the supermarkets within them. Such an amendment would go in favour of the big players on the scene such as Tesco and Albert but would leave smaller supermarkets such as Penny’s or Lidl – which are usually located outside shopping malls –out in the cold.

A vote is expected in the coming days but efforts to modify the bill at the last minute and the many previous failed attempts to push it through – indicate that as with smoking, restrictions on shopping hours will be hard to enforce.