KDNP to submit new Sunday closure bill

October 26, 2016

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Hungary’s Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) remains steadfast in its determination to force retailers to close on the Sabbath. A law prohibiting stores from opening on Sundays was repealed this year. Still, KDNP plans to submit a new bill requiring shops to remain closed two Sundays per month, and to limit the remaining Sundays to eight-hour workdays, reports mno.hu.

A law requiring shops of more than 400 square meters to close on Sundays was first proposed by a junior member of KDNP, the joint governing party, in 2014.

Upon hearing of the bill, Minister for National Economy Mihály Varga told reporters he was surprised the suggestion had come up, because “one in five people do their shopping on Sunday and it would not be wise to limit this”. Varga said Hungary was not so affluent that the most important problem was whether stores should open on Sundays. “If employers can agree with their employees, then why shouldn’t they open?” he asked.

Varga’s concern’s fell on deaf ears, and the bill was dutifully passed later that year, coming into effect in March 2015. While some small stores were allowed to remain open, (mostly “non-stop” convenience stores), they were required to close between 10pm and 6am.

Although many retail employees appreciated having the day off, most ordinary Hungarians took it as an imposition and an example of unwarranted government intrusion in their private lives. An Ipsos poll in December 2015 showed that 68 percent didn’t like the law. A bill to repeal it was introduced by Varga after it had been in force for only 12 months. The bill passed easily, 163-2, with 11 abstentions.

Despite the widespread unpopularity of the scheme, KDNP continues to make limiting Sunday business hours one of its political priorities. It plans to submit its proposal to parliament by the end of the year.

Hungary’s retailing sector suffers from a serious labor shortage, with various chains competing with one another for a limited pool of employees prepared to work long hours and weekends.  According to Csaba Bubenkó, President of the Hungarian Commercial Workers Independent Trade Union, retail workers are outraged over being forced to take their vacation days  by the end of November this year, because all workers are needed in December. Bubenkó says a petition to lift mandatory Sunday working hours is being circulated among overworked retailing employees seeking free weekends and decent working conditions, mno.hu reports.