Controversial Opening Hours Act amended

In June 1999, the Norwegian parliament approved a proposal to amend the controversial Opening Hours Act. The changes have been introduced in an effort to prevent the apparently ambiguous interpretations by some commercial enterprises of the Act's clauses allowing exemptions.

On 8 June 1999 the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) approved a proposal from the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs to alter the Opening Hours Act (åpningstidsloven). The Act, which came into effect on 1 January 1999, has been subject to much controversy since its adoption in June 1998. The changes have been introduced in an effort to prevent the apparently ambiguous interpretations by some commercial enterprises of the Act's clauses allowing exemptions.

The general aim of the Opening Hours Act is to limit and regulate opening hours among retail trade outlets. Section 3 of the Act stipulates several clauses allowing exemptions to the general provisions, of which the most important clause is concerned with the size of outlet, allowing small shops to open as they see fit (NO9901108F). Although this clause was met by great criticism when the Act was adopted in the summer of 1998, it was another exemption clause that led to considerable controversy during the first five months of 1999. This is the clause which excluded outlets in the vicinity of "traffic links" from the general opening times rules. This has now been abolished in an effort to combat what is regarded as dubious practices by some outlets, which culminated in a court case filed earlier in 1999 against two outlets that opened on Sundays (NO9903122N). A new clause exempting outlets located at airports has been included in its place. The clause exempting campsites is limited to high-season periods only, and more severe requirements are included concerning the number of visitors and location inside a camping area. The Act also gives the County Governor extended powers to decide whether to limit the exemption clause covering "typical tourist areas" to fixed periods during the year.

The Minister of Children and Family Affairs, Valgerd Svarstad Haugland, argued that changes became necessary after some parts of the retail sector found ways to evade or manipulate the original intentions of the Act. The Norwegian Union of Employees in Commerce and Offices (Handel og Kontor, HK) had called for changes to the Act, especially after it became evident that it was open to different interpretations, and as such is satisfied with parliament's decision. The Commercial Employers' Association (Handels- og Servicenæringens Hovedorganisasjon, HSH) expressed disappointment with the result, and especially the fact that no alterations have been made to the provisions stipulating exemptions with regard to the size of outlets. At present, this clause is, according to HSH, giving petrol stations a competitive advantage at the expense of more conventional commodity outlets.

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