Senators to challenge public holiday closure law

Photo: Tomáš Adamec

A group of Czech senators have backed a formal legal complaint to the country’s Constitutional Court challenging recently enacted legislation mandating large stores to close on public holidays.

Jaroslav Kubera,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The complaint, lodged by the Czech Chamber of Commerce, has the backing of 19 Czech senators spanning the Civic Democrats, TOP 09 and governing ANO. The plaintiffs argue that the legislation, signed by the president back in July, forcing large stores to close on seven selected public holidays, represents a form of discrimination.

Appearing at a press briefing on Wednesday, Civic Democrat Senator Jaroslav Kubera, a firm proponent of the legal challenge, expressed his hopes that the law would be overturned:

“As soon as the law passed, we were approached by the Czech Chamber of Commerce and also the Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism, who argued that they didn’t think this was a good law. We (Civic Democrats) also did not think this law was good and did not vote for it…Why on earth should the state be intervening in the matter of how and when trading will take place? We don’t think it should. That this is not its role.”

Vladimír Dlouhý, the head of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, flanked Senator Kubera at the press event. He told reporters that as it stood, he believed the law was impractical in the way it demarked a more than 200 square-meter size limit for determining which stores had to close.

Vladimír Dlouhý,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“I also fear that it might become some kind of Trojan Horse, gradually limiting all store openings on public holidays, and then on Sundays, too. That is something that we would strongly oppose.”

Dlouhý also suggested the law goes against international trends:

“We often hear the argument that our traditionally Catholic neighbours in Bavaria and Austria close their stores on Sundays. But even in these countries such limits are gradually being eased.”

It is not yet clear when the group intends to formally present its case to the Constitutional Court. The law, in effect since this autumn, was first felt during the October 28 Czech Statehood Day. It will also limit store opening hours on Christmas Eve, and force closures on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Asides from larger stores, the law also mandates the closure of second-hand bazars. Other outlets such as pharmacies, gas filling stations, and airport stores are allowed to stay open.

Advocates for the law, trade unions in particular, argued that workers deserved the right to spend public holidays with their families instead of being forced to go to work. Passage of the legislation over the summer represented the culmination of a ten year effort by such labour groups.

Photo: Tomáš Adamec
Back in April, the Hungarian parliament repealed a law barely on the books for a year shuttering stores on Sundays. Germany’s Ladenschlussgesetz or “Shop Closing Law” has been in effect since 1956; though local states have modified certain provisions, Sunday shopping is still largely prohibited, save for exceptions such as bakeries, cafes and restaurants. According to OSPO, the Czech Store Workers’ Trade Union, the vast majority of employees are happy to take time off during the seven newly-mandated days of rest.