Poland: Ban on Sunday trading after decade-long battle

A bill which will almost completely phases out Sunday trading in Poland by 2020 has been passed by parliament, thanks to consistent pressure over the last 10 years by the trade union NSZZ ‘Solidarność’. However, the bill does not satisfy the union, as it does not entirely reflect its original concept.

Background

The Polish national-level trade union confederation Solidarity (NSZZ ‘Solidarność’) has spent almost 10 years lobbying to introduce legal regulations on trading on Sundays and ultimately defining Sunday as a ‘free day’ at constitutional level. Its initiative was backed by a coalition of conservative non-governmental organisations and sectoral associations representing domestic capital, and their demands were set out in its ‘Alliance for Free Sundays’ charter.

Bill follows shift in power

Until 2015, the prospects for the initiative’s success were slim under the liberal-conservative coalition government of Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), which held power. This changed, however, when the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) took office. The union expected its campaign to succeed, as it had proven a reliable ally of PiS (backing Andrzej Duda’s presidential candidacy and having several of its members elected to parliament with the endorsement of PiS). The new government also showed its pro-employee stance from the very beginning of its term in office.

However, restricting Sunday trading turned out to be a sensitive issue. The pro-business faction within the government was gaining prominence and there were numerous concerns about whether such a bill would be against the constitution, and whether it complied with EU law. The debate on free Sundays, it would appear, continued to be a ‘never-ending story’.

Yet, while the government hoped to stretch out the debate for as long as possible, the union stuck to its key demand and continued to collect signatures in support of a bill. Any civic initiative in Poland which is supported by at least 100,000 people must be accepted as a draft law and, as the union’s civic initiative had been backed by 500,000 citizens by the end of August 2016, the ban went on to be discussed in parliament. Nevertheless, the government remained reluctant to back the idea, partly because of the opposition to the bill’s content (for example, if the draft were to be adopted unchanged, then seaports would also have to close on Sundays).

In October 2016, after the first reading in the Sejm (the lower chamber of the Polish parliament), the draft was sent to the Social Policy and Family Committee for further proceedings – where it stayed for the next six months. However, under growing pressure from NSZZ ‘Solidarność’ the government agreed in late March 2017 to continue working on the draft law. The main point of the proposal was to ban trading on Sundays, except for the two consecutive Sundays before Christmas, the last Sunday before Easter, the last Sunday in January, June, and August, and the first Sunday in July. A number of provisions in the draft were highlighted as being legally problematic (such as definition of ‘logistics centre’ being too vague).

Tensions rise and fall

In the months that followed, the debate between the government and the union dragged on without resolution. Meanwhile, counter-proposals were made with another national-level confederation, the All-Poland Trade Union Alliance (OPZZ), recommending the introduction of extra pay for retail Sunday work (at 2.5 times the normal rate of pay) instead of an arbitrary closure of stores. This suggestion was ignored, as was the proposal made by the Polish employers' confederation Lewiatan, to amend the Labour Code so that shop workers would be entitled to two free Sundays per month. Attempting to mediate between the clashes of interests, the cabinet sought compromise, suggesting a ‘50/50’ deal, with trading allowed on two Sundays each month. This, however, was rejected by the union who said it would not accept ‘any weakening of the regulation’.

The legislative process continued with most of the provisions being revised or rewritten, and although the union stated the draft no longer looked like the original initiative, negotiations quietly continued on the content. The final draft provided for incremental change; in 2018 there will be no shops open on half the Sundays each month, in 2019 none will open on three Sundays (on average) per month and, in 2020, all shops will be closed every Sunday. There are approximately 30 exceptions to the rule including:

  • stores operated personally by the owner;
  • petrol stations;
  • commercial outlets located in the premises of mass transportation facilities (such as railway stations and airports);
  • bakeries.

The last example is intriguing, as many large retail outlets maintain their own bakeries.

The draft became law on 24 November 2017, although many of its provisions still raised doubts, even among the members of the civic committee overseeing the law-making process.

Commentary

The newly adopted bill still needs to be passed by the upper chamber of the parliament (Senat) and finally signed by President Duda. It is unlikely that either will reject the bill, although it could be revised by the Senat. None of the parties involved seem to be satisfied; the government has stepped back from its original position, not wanting to risk alienating its key ally NSZZ ‘Solidarność’. Yet what has emerged from the law-making process looks very different from the union’s original initiative. Interestingly, at about the same time as the bill was going through parliament, the government announced that legislative works on retail tax would be frozen for another year.

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