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Hungary may require shops to close Sunday afternoons

It’s been four months since Hungary’s government repealed an unpopular law banning most retail stores from operating on Sundays, but it seems it has not entirely given up on the idea. Hungarian news website Nol.hu reports that the government is planning to introduce new legislation ordering big retail stores to close after noon on Sundays or else pay an extra sales tax.

Unlike many other Europeans, Hungarians are accustomed to being able to shop on Sundays. Visiting furniture outlets or shopping for clothing has always been a popular way to spend time on Sundays.

The shopping ban initiated by the conservative Christian Democratic People’s Party (Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt – KDNP) was introduced in March 2015. With minor exceptions, all shops had to close on Sundays and non-stops were also ordered to close between 10pm and 6am every day. The decree made the plazas and shopping streets virtually empty: although smaller businesses were allowed to operate, it made no sense for shopping malls to open.  A number of fast-food restaurants situated at retailing “power hubs” even ended up closing.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán insisted that the government introduced the ban to help families. What he did not foresee is that most Hungarians hated the new law.  A survey by pollster Ipsos in December 2015 showed that 68% of Hungarians didn’t agree with most shops remaining closed on Sunday.

The legislation was finally repealed in April this year after the Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt – MSZP) managed to verify their bid to hold a referendum to abolish it.  In other words, the highly unpopular legislation was repealed NOT because it was unpopular or ill conceived, but because Fidesz did not want the opposition Socialists taking advantage of a referendum on the subject to recruit voters.

Bring it back

Despite popular discontent, Nol.hu writes that the government is now planning to introduce new legislation that would not reinstate the shopping ban entirely, but would order retail stores larger than 400 square meters to close after noon. If they wish to stay open in the afternoon as well, they would have to pay an additional sales tax.

Spokesperson for Fidesz’s parliamentary faction János Halász denied they were planning to reintroduce the much-contested legislation.

“Those who say otherwise are lying,” he said to pro-government paper Magyar Idők.

However, the parliamentary faction leader of KDNP, Péter Harrach, admitted to the paper that they are still working on “how to weaken the burdens placed on employees” in the retail sector.

According to their plan, the party wants employees to have two free Sundays every month. They also want new legislation to ensure that employees should only work eight hours on Sundays.

Their views are shared by Fidesz as well. Not so long ago, Lajos Kósa, parliamentary faction leader of the governing party, spoke of a plan that would require employers to give employees a Sunday off for every Sunday spent at the workplace. They would propose to limit to six the number of Sundays in a given year any one employee must work.

Socialists in action

Meanwhile, the Socialists already announced that they would initiate another referendum in case the government re-introduced the shopping ban in any way.

“Taxing revenues on Sunday afternoon is a typical example of mafia government,” they said in a statement.

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