“Unjustified” closing of large retailers on holidays could cost jobs, says Chamber boss

Photo: Tomáš Adamec, Czech Radio

The Czech Chamber of Commerce has come out strongly against a plan to force large retailers to shut their doors on state holidays. The Senate proposal is aimed at improving conditions for workers. However, it could lead to wage reductions or layoffs, says Chamber chief Vladimir Dlouhý.

Photo: Tomáš Adamec, Czech Radio
A group of Social Democrat senators have tabled a bill that would make it illegal for retail outlets with floor space of 200 square metres or more to open their doors on New Year’s Day, Easter Monday and five other state holidays. It would also apply to second-hand shops, pawn shops, and scrap merchants.

Fines of up to CZK 1 million would be levied for a first breach of the mooted law, with repeat offences earning a CZK 5 million sanction.

Curbing opening hours on holidays has been debated in the Czech Republic for several years and has the backing of the country’s trade unions and some church leaders.

The currently debated legislation has support in the upper house from the Christian Democrats and the Communists, while an MP for the Christian Democrats recently said that all three parties in the governing coalition also backed it, following an about-face from ANO.

Similar legislation is in place in 10 European Union states, including Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Vladimír Dlouhý, Photo: Filip Jandourek, Czech Radio
However, the president of the Czech Chamber of Commerce, Vladimir Dlouhý, has warned of the consequences if local legislators opt to follow suit.

In an interview for Czech Radio, Mr. Dlouhý said people should be allowed to open their doors, work and shop at their own digression, and pointed out that the majority of EU states back this principle.

Such a ban would represent an unjustified intervention on the part of the state in the business sphere, he said. What’s more, according to Mr. Dlouhý, the reduction in working days would adversely affect just the retail workers it is meant to protect; either all staff would take a hit in their pay packets or some would be let go.

Many supermarkets, hypermarkets and shopping centres already shut every December 25 and New Year’s Day, despite the fact that they are not required to by law. This, Marta Nováková of the Czech Confederation of Trade and Tourism told iHned.cz, proves that self-regulation is effective.

On top of that, says Ms. Nováková, investors have put a lot of money into the 350 or so shopping malls around the Czech Republic; she said curbing opening hours now could raise questions regarding protection of investment.

Mr. Dlouhý told Czech Radio he could understand the desire to rein in the Czech Republic’s growing consumer culture. However, he said, it is a society-wide problem; attempting to deal with it in this way would be absurd.