New legislative framework for shop opening hours
In late July 2005, new regulations on shop opening hours were introduced in accordance with the passing of Law 3377/2005, regarding 'Principles and rules for restoring the operation and the development of basic areas of trade and the market and other Ministry of Development issues'. A summary of the provisions of the law pertaining to shop opening hours is outlined here, along with the reactions of government bodies and trade unions.
On 27 July 2005, Law 3377/2005 was passed on the 'Principles and rules for restoring the operation and the development of basic areas of trade and the market and other Ministry of Development issues'. The new law did not enter into force until it was published in the government gazette on 19 August 2005.
Provisions of new legislative framework
Article 12 of Law 3377/2005, which amends and supplements Article 23 of the previously applicable Law 2224/1994 ('Regulation of employment issues, trade union rights, worker health and safety and organisation of the Ministry of Labour and the legal persons supervised thereby'), stipulates the following:
A single nationwide framework is laid down for opening hours of shops of all types, with the exception of those set out in Article 42 of Law 1892/1990 and Article 14 of Law 2194/1994. Thus, the new opening hours do not apply to nightclubs and related establishments, filling stations, restaurants, patisseries, florist shops, kiosks and shops in the same class as kiosks, photographic studios, shoe-shining establishments, retail shops selling only dried fruit and nuts and certain shops serving the tourist trade in strictly designated tourist areas, to which special regulations apply.
Law 3377/2005 sets closing times on all weekdays at 21.00 hours and on Saturdays at 20.00 hours, both in summer and in winter. Closing times may be extended in accordance with the conditions and needs of each area or each prefecture, by decision of the competent prefectorial councils published in the daily and local press. Such decisions are taken after inviting all the employer and employee organisations concerned to give their opinions within a deadline of 20 days. If this deadline is not met, the prefectorial council issues its decision in the absence of such opinions.
Commercial shops and food stores are free to set their opening hours at any time after 05.00 hours.
According to statements by the competent government bodies and the statement of reasons in the draft bill, it was considered imperative to set a new framework for shop opening hours, in order to meet consumers’ shopping needs in the best way possible. Other considerations included development of trade, harmonisation with current EU regulations and new job creation. It was also considered necessary that this regulation governs the functioning of the market nationwide, in order to meet common standing needs of the present-day Greek family and working parents. Finally, according to the government’s assessment, longer hours for commercial activity will help reduce unemployment and create new jobs.
Implementation of the law and reactions
When the new unified shop opening hours came into effect on the date of their publication in the government gazette, strong opposition was voiced by shop employees and owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who pointed out that the new hours favour department stores and large supermarket chains.
So far, the new opening hours are being implemented only by a few large chain stores: supermarket chains Carrefour SA and AB Vasilopoulos SA, electrical appliance chain Kotsovolos SA, home furnishing giant IKEA SA and the Attica SA department store.
Meanwhile, the Athens Traders Association has declared its intention of retaining its members’ previous opening hours. Shop assistants’ representatives consider the new shop opening hours to be a threat to SMEs and employees, and fear that many SMEs will be forced to close down, that employment levels will fall, and that working and living conditions will worsen in the near future.
When the new hours became law, shop assistants’ trade unions took strong industrial action, including protests in the entrances of the companies concerned, in an attempt to prevent their implementation.
The General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Trades (GSEVEE) is opposed to the new regulations, insisting that there has been no demand from the public for liberalisation of shop opening hours, and arguing that the new hours will not result in more jobs and lower prices. Instead, GSEVEE foresees lower employment and higher prices. At the same time, it has declared that it will take further industrial action in the future, and does not rule out the possibility that it may apply to the European Court of Justice.
For its part, the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) has expressed its opposition to the introduction of the new unified opening hours for commercial shops, outlining the following reasons and points of opposition:
- The union believes that the law is a step on the way to full liberalisation of opening hours.
- Jobs will be threatened in small- and medium-sized enterprises, which in Greece employ over 70% of the workers in the retail sector.
- The already flexible employment relationships prevailing in the sector will worsen, in an attempt to reduce operating needs, given the inadequacy of control mechanisms; at the same time, full-time jobs will be transformed into part-time and subsidised short-time work.
- Unpaid overtime will spiral out of control.
- Reconciliation of working and family life will be dealt a severe blow, both for employees and for owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises.
- There will be grave consequences for the insurance funds.
- GSEE estimates that companies’ operating costs will, for the most part, be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
- On no account should the prefectorial councils be able to extend local opening hours on the basis of opinions from the employers’ and employees’ organisations, which are in fact not binding.
The Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) expressed the view that the new opening hours are a step in the right direction, but that there is room for improvement.
Shop opening hours should adhere to and reflect the needs of workers, companies and consumers. In this context, the agreed hours should be the product of broader consultation and agreement, always with the ultimate goal of regulating the domestic market and serving social needs. (Anda Stamati, INE/GSEE)