Slovenia: Social partners in favour of partial Sunday opening hours in retail

Moves to restrict Sunday shopping began in the Slovenian parliament in October 2017. This has speeded up negotiations on the subject between the Trade Union of Workers in the Trade Sector (ZSSS-SDTS) and the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce (TZS), neither of whom (for different reasons) want a complete closure of shops.

Background

The public debate on the opening hours of shops on Sundays began when failed negotiations between the social partners in the retail sector led to a referendum on 21 September 2003. This resulted in a ban on Sunday shopping, with some exceptions. The referendum was approved by 58% of voters, but the voter turnout was only 27.5%. However, the referendum decision was implemented for about a month only at the beginning of 2006, as retail companies’ appeals to the Constitutional Court managed to defer its implementation until November 2006, when social partners concluded a collective agreement for Slovenia’s trade sector.

There were several points in this collective agreement.

  • Work on Sundays was limited to 2 Sundays per month and 26 Sundays per year (per worker).
  • Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers were excluded, as were parents of a child less +han three years old (unless the worker in question agreed in writing), and single parents of a very sick child.
  • Parents of a pre-school child older than three years were allowed to work 10 Sundays per year.
  • Workers were entitled to a wage supplement of 100% for the work on Sundays and one of 200% for working on major holidays.

Structural changes in the retail sector since 2006

Two factors have had significant effects on the retail sector and its workforce since 2006. Firstly, the hitherto market domination of the three retail chains Mercator, Tuš and Spar, was weakened by the expansion of the discount retail chains Lidl and Hofer (Aldi). The discount chains have increased pressures on labour costs as they mostly hire part-time workers who can be given a much more intense pace of work than regular full-time employees. Although the salary for a five-hour working day is proportional to the wage of a full-time employee, the worker’s overall revenue is below the poverty line and the flexible working hours stop part-timers from having a second job to top up their wages. These part-timers are also exposed to a high risk of poverty in old age as their social security contributions are low and proportional to the (shorter) working hours, meaning that they will probably not be able to meet the required ‘period of insurance’.

Secondly, the economic crisis in 2008 caused a slump in the number of people working in the retail sector – falling by 8.9% – from 58,000 in 2008 to 52,900 in 2014. In 2016, the number increased to 54,600 employees, but has not reached the original level despite the extended opening hours in the sector. In addition to the overall reduction of workforce, the PRECARIR research project (PDF) showed that precarious jobs crowded out full-time employees during this period.

Campaign for a ban on Sunday shopping

It comes as no surprise that retail companies are encountering a considerable lack of willing workers. Low wages and precarious jobs have made employment in the retail sector unattractive, with people employed in the sector leaving and new blood hard to find. Employees are overburdened by an intense pace of work and overtime work, carrying out 1,375 million overtime hours in 2015 for low pay, with some unable to take their annual leave due to labour shortages.

All these circumstances have led to a campaign for a ban on Sunday shopping, which has resonated with the public. It was initiated by the independent parliamentary deputy Andrej Čuš, on the grounds that the referendum decision in 2003 has not been implemented. Mr Čuš collected 15,000 signatures in support of his campaign and submitted an amendment to the Trade Act on 4 October 2017. At that time, the majority of parliamentary political parties expressed their support for the ban on Sunday shopping.

Social partners agreed to limit unsocial hours in shops

The main social partners in this debate, the Trade Union of Workers in the Trade Sector (ZSSS-SDTS) and the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce (TZS) rejected the possibility that Sunday opening hours would be regulated by law. Neither the retail companies nor the trade unions were in favour of shops completely closing on Sundays and national holidays. The trade unions did not support the ban because their members can only attain a slight rise of their very low wages by additional payments for Sunday and holiday work. This led to them advocating a ‘fair payment’ of €100 for Sunday work.

If the legal proposal was not the driving force of social partners’ negotiations on working time, it certainly speeded up the conclusion of the annex to the ‘Collective Agreement of Slovenia’s trade sector’, as it was announced that the parliament would vote on the legal proposal by the end of the year 2017. The social partners issued a joint press release (PDF) after concluding the annex on 30 November. They agreed that a worker can work 2 Sundays a month and 15 Sundays a year and be entitled to a supplement of 100% of the basic salary which should not be lower than €5.40 per hour. Certain groups of workers are excluded from overtime work on Sundays and holidays:

  • pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers;
  • parents of a child less than three years old;
  • one parent taking care of a very sick child.

Shops are supposed to close for national holidays except for five key days (2 January, 27 April, 2 May, 31 October and 26 December). The supplementary payment for these days is 250% of the basic salary, and no lower than €5.40 per hour.

The annex includes definitions of ‘irregular distribution’ and ‘temporary redistribution’ of working time which should not exceed 56 hours per week. Overtime will be paid, or compensated as leave, within a period of one year. If workers are not paid within this time frame, penalties will be applied (a 45% increase for a delay of up to two months and 60% for delays of more than two months).

Commentary

Parliament voted against the amendment to the Trade Act on 19 December 2017, on the grounds that the collective agreement satisfactorily regulates the opening hours of shops on Sundays and national holidays.

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