To Trade or Not to Trade: Sunday trading laws to be abolished?

July 6, 2020

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

High ranking government officials are said to support a change in the Sunday trading laws which would allow shops to stay open more than six hours on Sundays. The aim of this legislation is to encourage consumption and economic growth.

What does this mean?

The Sunday Trading Act 1994 states that shops with retail space exceeding 280 square metres can be opened for a maximum of six hours of trading on Sunday. The Act provides for a more lenient regime. Before 1994, all shops were closed on Sunday in order to respect the Christian resting day. As a result, traditionally minded Conservative MPs are expected to cast a negative vote on the currently proposed legislation. 

At the same time, Labour MPs will likely reject the change as well. Some of them have argued that there is no economic case for such a measure, given that consumer  demand has not increased beyond a manageable level. They argue, however, that such a measure could increase the pressure on retail workers, who are one of the groups worst affected by the pandemic. 

Usdaw, one of the biggest trade unions, opposes the change as well; arguing that the influx of shoppers only lasts  for a short period of time when shops open. During the rest of the day, it contends that the numbers are easily  manageable and there is no need to increase the trading hours.

What's the big picture effect?

Retailers present conflicting opinions on this matter. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Co-op are not enthusiastic. This stance stems not necessarily from  concerns about workers’ well-being but because they already own many smaller outlets that are allowed to stay open until 11pm seven days a week. Longer trading hours for their competitors means they will lose their competitive advantage. Predictably, Asda and Morrisons, both running mostly large shops, support the change in trading laws. 

This divergence of opinion is ripe ground for litigation. If such a measure becomes a reality, trade unions and perhaps some retail chains could seek judicial review (if possible). Employment law concerns  and, potentially even human rights concerns, could serve as  grounds of attack. A strong case could be made against subjecting employees to an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus by working longer hours, especially if the economic rationale is weak.

All things considered, it is highly unlikely that this proposal will become law. A recent survey found that over half the population support the Sunday trading rules. Moreover, as many stakeholders pointed out, the economic case made by proponents is weak. Therefore, chances are small to sway the public opinion, especially because such a change would place more pressure on an already overworked social group.

Report written by Bogdan Ciacli

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