Poland’s Sunday trading ban takes effect

Catholic church welcomes law that begins with ban on two Sundays a month, extending to all in 2020.

A Polish law banning almost all trade on Sundays has taken effect, with large supermarkets and most other retailers closed for the first time since liberal shopping laws were introduced in the 1990s after the collapse of communism.

The change is stirring up a range of emotions in a country where some feel workers are exploited but many others see consumer freedom as one of the most tangible benefits of the free market era.

The law was proposed by the trade union Solidarity, which says employees deserve Sundays off, and found the support of the conservative and pro-Catholic ruling party, Law and Justice.

The influential Catholic church, to which more than 90% of Poles belong, has welcomed the change.

The new law at first bans trade on two Sundays per month, rising to three Sundays a month from 2019 and finally all Sundays from 2020, except for seven exceptions before the Easter and Christmas holidays.

Pro-business opposition parties view the change as an attack on commercial freedom and warn that it will lead to a loss of jobs, and in particular hurt students who only have time to work at weekends.

The All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions also opposes it, arguing that it will push employees to work longer hours on Fridays and Saturdays and that the work will be harder because there will be more customers.

Poles are among the hardest working citizens in the European Union and some complain that Sundays are sometimes the only days they have free time to shop. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only Greek people put in longer working hours than Poles in the 28-member bloc. The average Polish employee worked 1,928 hours in 2016, according to OECD statistics.

In Hungary, another ex-communist country, a ban on Sunday trade imposed in 2015 was so unpopular that authorities repealed it the next year. Elsewhere in Europe, however, including Germany and Austria, people have long been accustomed to the day of commercial rest and appreciate the push it gives them to escape the compulsion to shop in favour of quality time with family and friends.

Anyone infringing the new rules faces a fine of up to 100,000 zlotys (£21,180), while repeat offenders may face a prison sentence. Solidarity appealed to people to report any violators to the National Labour Inspectorate, a state body.

The author: Michel THEYS

Michel Theys, a Belgian native, began his career as a civil servant, serving the public for several decades. After retirement, he shifted gears to follow his passion for journalism. With a background in public administration, Theys brought a unique perspective to his reporting. His insightful articles, covering a wide array of topics, swiftly gained recognition. Today, Michel Theys is a respected journalist known for his balanced and thoughtful reporting in the Belgian media landscape.

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