“I still won’t go to church!” It was a half-joking, half-serious reaction to the new law limiting Sunday shopping, which began this week. Life will be more difficult for night-owls too, with the proscribed closures also applying from 10pm to 6am on the other days of the week.
When Parliament approved the measures in December, to protect the Sabbath as a day of rest for families, numerous ideas were put forward to dodge the legislation. For a while there was talk that supermarkets would rent their floor area piece by piece as a franchise, so that every new “owner” could sell in their own shop on Sundays.
This “solution” was because retail shops with a sales area less than 200 square metres do not have to close, provided the sales personnel consists of the owner holding at least 20% interest in the shop and his or her immediate family members. However, the idea was short-lived due to the large administrative burden it would have meant.
Then there was a long guessing game about whether the home delivery service offered by Tesco and GRoby, for example, would be possible on Sundays. News portal Index interpreted that this would be allowed by the law, but the Ministry of National Economy quickly responded with a “no” because delivery is in direct relationship with business activity, and thus fell under the prohibition of sales.
And then there are the other exceptions, apart from the 200-square-metre one: pharmacies, tobacconists, farmers markets and stores on military bases are permitted to operate on Sundays. Bakeries can open between 5am and noon. Retail shops at airports, train stations, petrol stations and hospitals also are allowed to operate as late as 10pm on Sundays. The four Sundays preceding Christmas are exempt from the shopping ban, and all retailers will be allowed to open once a year on a Sunday of their choosing.
Plus there is the amendment known in the media as “Lex Spar”, which prohibits stores at service stations being open. This is a cold shower for the management of Spar, whose Spar Express shops have been operating in co-operation with OMV petrol stations since 2013, and which had been planning a further eight such stores.
Another contentious area has been shops in cultural heritage areas. Index .hu asked the Ministry of National Economy and was told that they can remain open, although the ministry did not rule out the government changing its mind at a later date.
So far the most popular way for retail chains and shop owners to compensate for the government’s hastily conceived legislation has been to extend opening times on other days. The first to do so was Swedish furniture concern IKEA, which announced in January that its shores will be open between 9am and 10pm after March 16.
German grocery-discount Lidl followed and prolonged its opening times from 7am to 9pm. So will Mammut shopping centre, for instance.
Index.hu quoted an anonymous employee who complained about the new opening times. She said her 12-hour workday and one-hour commute make the free Sunday look like a joke, because “I have to do all the housework that I cannot do in the rest of the week on this day”.
Many employees will lose their Sunday shift salary supplement. While the 30% salary supplement applicable for work after 6pm on weekdays can be avoided by employers with the help of a few tricks in the work schedule, there was no escape for bosses from paying the 50% Sunday shift supplement. Layoffs are a question, however time will tell how effectively malls and hardware stores will be able to compensate for the best-selling day of the week.
The reform runs counter to a broader tendency in Europe to liberalise the retail sector. France is considering extending trading from five Sundays a year to 14. In Germany and Austria, long familiar with Sunday closing, laws are gradually being changed, with more and more exceptions granted.
Croatia introduced legislation similar to Hungary in 2009, with the same early confusion about who could open and who could not. Sales fell 15% compared to the previous year. The compulsory closing was finally abolished by the Croatian Constitutional Court, which said such a rule is simply unnecessary in a democratic state. Further, it was not reaching the desired goal, namely protecting employees, and it was limiting free competition.
In Hungary the law entered into force on Sunday March 15. It’s questionable how long it will survive the growing dissatisfaction of shoppers, store employees and the supermarket chains.