The law forcing larger supermarkets to close on Sundays has begun. Night hours are affected on the other six days. The many exceptions have confused traders, consumers and the media, which has offered diverse interpretations of ambiguous legal passages. The Budapest Times takes a look.
Following its initial refusal, Fidesz finally accepted the suggestion of its small coalition partner KDNP to limit mainly Sunday opening times. Parliament passed the proposal in mid-December with a clear majority. Even Minister of National Economy Mihály Varga, who clearly opposed the idea at first, voted “yes”.
Now there are a lot of questions rather than a clear situation. Websites and applications such as www.vasarnapinyitvatartas.hu are trying to give some explanation. Over 3,000 shops have registered at this page in order make their future Sunday opening times public.
Non-stop shops are now limited to 6am to 10pm. The law began on Sunday March 15, which was a national holiday, so the first real date on which the new closing times will be implemented will be this Sunday March 22.
Only days before the law entered force, it was still unsure whether online commerce must also stop on Sundays. Web shops do not have opening times and the order and sales process does not involve any employees in most cases. Retail chains such as Tesco deliver online orders over the weekend.
The Ministry of National Economy told online portal Index.hu that according to the law online commerce should also stop on Sundays and national holidays and between 10pm and 6pm, but general secretary of the National Commercial Alliance György Vámos denies this interpretation. Only practice will show what the rule for online commerce is.
The formulation of exceptions in individual communities is also vague. Factors such as the importance of tourism in the region, the shopping habits of the residents and the number of employees will play a role in any decisions about exceptions.
The consequences for the retail industry are hard to predict. Due to the many unclear points and the realistic chance of later amendments to the law, many companies, both large and small, are just waiting at the moment. A Spar spokesman said Sunday turnover made up 8% of their whole business, and, combined with the drastically increased food-supervision fee, the retail chain would employ fewer new employees and might have to close some stores.
Market leader Tesco’s president in Hungary, Nigel Jones, announced in January that the company will close 13 stores and put off 500 employees, all due to the new legislation. The closures have not happened yet but the fallout among employers and employees remains unclear.
The Consumer Protection Authority will supervise compliance with the law. Violations can result in the authority closing a store for five to 15 days, and up to a year or a fine for repeated offences.
Looking on the bright side, market research agencies GFK Hungária/Consumerscan say the majority of shopping was done on Fridays and Saturdays anyway, so perhaps getting used to the new order will not be as bad as thought.
Shops may be open between 6am and 10pm on Sundays in the Advent season, between 6am and 9pm on December 24 and 31, and on one freely electable Sunday each year.
– As the Consumer Protection Authority announced in business newspaper Világgazdaság, the new law does not prohibit working on Sundays, it only regulates opening times. According to the law, activities such as doing the inventory or cleaning can still be done on Sundays, as these do not count as retailing activities.
– Businesses selling fresh baked goods and dairy products are allowed to stay open from 5am to noon on Sundays and public holidays; newspaper and flower shops can stay open between 6am and noon.
– The law is not applicable to shops at airports, bus stations, service stations, in healthcare institutions (e.g. pharmacies), legal and military institutions, and markets and fairs.
– Cultural and touristic institutions and thermal spas may remain open on Sundays. Thus tourism, for example at Lake Balaton, should not be endangered, contradicting the statements of the National Commercial Alliance’s Vámos.
– Shops within sports facilities, e.g. stadiums, may remain open on Sundays and public holidays during sports events.
– Within the service sector, hairdressing and beauty salons are exceptions.
– The first proposals allowed National Tobacco Shops to stay open – but the current legal passage includes them under the opening ban.
– Malls with multiplexes are likely to remain open, with Judit Balatoni, chief secretary of the Hungarian Shopping Centre Association, saying that only malls without cinemas, of which there are few in Hungary, are expected to close on Sundays. The new rules allow for exceptions to be made by government decree based on particularities of specific shopping centres, such as their role in the local tourism industry, Balatoni said, adding that they would request permission for shops in malls with cinemas to remain open on the Sabbath.
László Sz., 68 years old
“As a pensioner I am not really impacted by the new rule, since I can do my shopping any time. However, for the young, working people it must be hard. They have to reorganise their customs, just like the directors of the impacted shops. When you have a family, this is not such an easy thing to do. Meanwhile the law was originally supposed to protect the families.”
Rita V., 26 years old
“I think the whole thing is quite confusing. We don’t know what will be open after the 15 March and what will be closed. In the beginning people will probably leave their apartments in the hope that they will be able to get the missing sour cream at one place or another somehow, and I think that there will be some hidden possibilities still. My brother is living in Ireland, where the opening times are very strictly regulated. However, you can get used to it and you can live with it.”
Ádám F., 34 years old
“I think the law is very unpractical, because I am working on Saturdays too, and to be honest we kind of like to go out shopping with the family on Sundays. However, I have just read that the small shops, which are allowed to stay open, might even profit from the new rule, since everyone will go there to do their shopping. This will be more expensive for us but good for the small businesses, and the large supermarkets are already earning enough anyway.”