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Peter Lynas: We must Keep Sunday Special and reject attempts to liberalise Sunday Trading laws

Picture 12 Peter Lynas is a former barrister and spokesperson for the Keep Sunday Special campaign and researcher with the Relationships Foundation, a Cambridge based think tank seeking a better connected society.

Last week on Centre Right Mark Wallace argued that it was time to abolish Sunday Trading laws entirely. Along with many of those who posted comments, I think the law should remain as it is, protecting vulnerable workers, small family businesses and respecting the will of the vast majority of voters.

This year Boxing Day falls on a Sunday and some major retailers have begun a campaign to suspend Sunday Trading laws on that day. A question on the issue was raised last week in the House of Lords and in response the Business Minister Baroness Wilcox indicated there were no plans to change the law at the moment.

Mark described this decision as ‘petty and misguided’, claiming ‘the result will be a slower recovery’.

The problem is that the public don’t agree. A recent poll by the Association of Convenience Stores shows that only 5% of the public favour any liberalisation of Sunday trading laws. The small minority of retailers pushing for the deregulation of Sunday trading are out of step with the public. 85% of those polled oppose a one-off change to the law for Boxing Day.

The government carried out a wide-ranging review in 2006 and concluded that the current law struck the right balance. Small business organisations, the unions, faith groups, and a significant majority of the public all opposed any increase in Sunday trading.

The case for allowing longer opening on Boxing Day seems to be a misguided attempt to put profit before staff and their families. Proponents claims millions will be lost if the law doesn’t change – more likely it will just be spent a day or two later. John Lewis didn’t open on Boxing Day in 2009 and posted record profits, which undermines the business argument for a relaxation in the rules. The logic of Mark’s argument is that shops should be open all day every day to help speed the recovery – perhaps Christmas Day is next!

In our consumer driven, pluralist society, public objection to increased Sunday trading may seem odd, but the polling is consistent and clear. Perhaps it is because the UK is top of the table for evening and weekend work, but bottom of the table for child wellbeing. Perhaps it is because 1.5 million parents will be working today and over a million will work both weekend days limiting the time they can spend with their children. Perhaps it is because people want to do things together, to play sport, see their family, go to church, take a walk or just rest.

The champions of deregulation like to talk about choice, but whose choice? The minority who want longer opening hours regardless of the social costs, or the low paid workers who have to serve them. Three quarters of mums working weekends say it is a job requirement not a choice. 62% of shop workers have felt pressure to work on Sunday and only 11% feel confident of their legal opt-out. Managers can make it very difficult for those who don’t want to work on Sundays. Workers also feel peer pressure as their decision not to work on a Sunday can increase the demands on other staff.

It is not quaint or old fashioned to want to stop once a week and relax, spend time with friends and family, and rest. If anything, perhaps its time to consider extending legislation to cover Boxing Day so workers get two days off over Christmas to see their families. As long as all the large stores are shut, no-one loses out.


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