Reform of Sunday Trading Law

We are in a recession, and in order for a country to leave a recession, it must experience a growth in spending. This can be achieved through an increase in consumer spending, business spending, government spending or a combination of all three. To quote a business that would welcome this proposition: “Every Little Helps!”

I propose the abolition of the restrictions on shops’ Sunday opening hours. The current law (in England and Wales) prevents shops greater than 280 m2 (3014 sq. ft.) to open for longer than 6 hours or outside of 10am to 6pm on Sundays. Many varying reasons are given for these restrictions, but I find none of them to be satisfactory.

I’ll start with the most indefensible argument: that it’s “God’s day.” You may well believe that, but most people do not. In this day and age, such an argument is ridiculous: why should one group be able to force its religious practices against others?

While on the topic of religion, the current rules hamper employers, workers and customers, solely for observing a religion other than Christianity, which happens to not designate Sunday as a “holy day.” This puts them at a disadvantage, just for not being a Christian.

One argument used by proponents of Sunday Trading Law is that it provides “family time.” Surely it should be down to the members of said families if they want to spend time together on a specific day of the week, and not pushed upon them by legislation. Perhaps a more noble cause would be to provide more opportunities for families to engage together during the week.

The main concern of the trade unions, in regards to Sunday Trading Law, is that employees could be forced to work on a Sunday by their employer. The current legislation guarantees the right of employees to refuse to work on Sundays, without fear of reprisal from their employers. (In fact, this right was later given to employees in Scotland, where Sunday trading hours are not restricted.) Some might say that this is an inadequate protection for workers; however this is the only protection that shop workers in small shops, Scotland or any of the exempt shop types have. (Some of the exemptions I find to be quite odd, such as: “any shop where the trade or business carried on consist wholly or mainly of the sale of intoxicating liquor.” Why is this granted a special exemption?)

While this is all well and good for those with jobs, what about those without? Unemployment currently stands at around 2.47 million. History of previous recessions teaches us that the central economic question has to be “does this policy have the potential to boost employment.” By allowing shops to open for longer on Sundays, jobs will be created both directly and indirectly (or at the very least the number of job losses reduced).

I hope that unions like Usdaw (thanks for the great “Usdaw for Labour” highlighters you sent us!) will recognise the need for both their members, currently in work, to stay in work, and for those unemployed to get into work.

(Special thanks to Tom Watson for help with a particular sentence)

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