Should Czech stores close at Christmas?

Photo: Tomáš Adamec

A battle over opening hours at Czech stores during the holidays has continued for several years and once again the question of whether stores should close or remain open at Yuletide is being hotly debated. Some Czech union representatives want to see hours curbed so that cashiers or shop assistants can spend more time with their loved ones; critics say the matter should be left up to employers.

Photo: Tomáš Adamec
If Czech union representatives have their way Czech chain stores could remain closed during key holidays – in particular during the Christmas season – as early as next year. They have long argued that shop assistants, not particularly well-paid as it is, should be allowed to observe the holidays at home on the heels of what is already an incredibly busy season. While some employees don’t mind the Christmas rush given more generous bonuses offered at Christmas, others not surprisingly dread returning to work on December 25 and 26 or January 1. The chairwoman of the Union of Shop Employees Renáta Buriánová suggests Czechs should take a page from their central European neighbours.

“All of our neighbours have similar legislation governing opening times at Christmas and – as a developed country - I think we should be part of it. Countries like Austria and Germany set aside time during the holidays, it is a part of their cultural tradition, and I think we should do the same.”

Renáta Buriánová, photo: archive of Union of Shop Employees
Some opponents argue that curbing hours will only hurt businesses at a time when consumers traditionally spend the most. But others, such as Renáta Buriánová say that would not be the case, suggesting that consumers would simply plan ahead.

“I think a consumer has only one wallet and can spend only what he or she have inside.”

Not all trade or business representatives are necessarily against shops closing over Christmas; what they dislike are blanket solutions. In their view, the decision should not be enforced by law, but should be left up to individual employers. In other words, the market should decide; Zdeněk Juračka is the president of the Confederation of Czech Commerce and Tourism:

“I agree that the businesses won’t take much of a hit if they remain closed. But what is at stake here is the quality of services. We are not saying stores have to stay open, but we think that the decision should be up to individual shop owners, based on consumer demand, the economic situation and types of services. In the Czech Republic, we found that many people do make use of holidays and weekends to shop, rather than work hours. Why should we ruin things for them?”

Zdeněk Juračka, photo: Helicid, CC BY-SA 3.0
After years of debate it is more than likely that legislation on store hours will gain new traction. The Social Democrats – set to head the next government – have long expressed support for stores remaining closed at the holidays and the Christian Democrats, for obvious reasons, are likely to agree. What remains unknown is whether ANO 2011, led by billionaire businessman Andrej Babiš, will share the enthusiasm. The former right-wing parties in government, TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats, remain resolutely against while the Communists are in favour.