New law on opening hours and employment conditions for retail workers

In November 2006, a new law regulating shop opening hours and retail employees’ terms and conditions of employment in Cyprus came into effect. An outcome of social dialogue, the new legislation clearly provides a more favourable regulatory framework in terms of statutory and other forms of protection for workers in the sector, thus meeting many of the demands of the trade unions.

On 29 November 2006, a new law regulating the operation of shops and the terms and conditions of employment for shop employees, Law 155(I)/2006 (in Greek, 909Kb PDF), came into force, following its publication in the Official Gazette. Although it is referred to as a new law, it essentially has as its basis the Shop Assistants’ Law (Cap. 185), as amended from 1942 to 2003. The weaknesses of the previous legislation made it imperative to devise an updated version of the law – a procedure which took almost five years and which was the outcome of constant, arduous negotiations at tripartite level.

Provisions of new legislation

In relation to shop employees’ terms and conditions of employment, the following basic provisions are provided for in the legislation:

  • working hours of shop employees are affixed at a maximum of eight hours a day and 38 hours a week;
  • all employees have the possibility to work overtime, with their consent, up to two hours a day and eight hours a week;
  • all employees will be compensated for overtime, receiving not less than double time for Sundays and free mornings or evenings, and time-and-a-half for other days. Employees who work on public holidays will be compensated with not less than double time;
  • all employees will be entitled to daily rest periods of at least 11 consecutive hours out of every 24 hours, and a weekly rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours;
  • employees who work a continuous working day shall be entitled to a meal or rest break of not less than 15 minutes and not more than one hour;
  • employees who work a six-day week will be entitled to three free mornings or evenings a week, while employees working a five-day week will be entitled to one free morning or evening each week;
  • employees who work in shops that open on Saturdays must be allowed to take one of their free evenings off on Saturday every second week, while employees working in shops that open on Sundays are entitled to take one of their free evenings off on Sunday every other week;
  • during the summer, lunchtime breaks can be taken on a voluntary basis;
  • all shop owners must make available all of the necessary documentation as stipulated by law – for example, the working time schedule, a list of employees’ names – in a conspicuous place, which is accessible to all workers.

The law applies to all employees, regardless of whether or not they are paid according to a commission scheme; it also applies to workers employed in the general area of shops, irrespective of occupation or duties.

As regards penalising those who break the law, shop owners who violate the legislation in any manner whatsoever will be guilty of a criminal offence and – if convicted – will be subject to imprisonment of not more than one year or to a fine of not more than CYP 10,000 (around €17,278 as at 30 January 2006), or both.

It should be noted that the law draws a clear distinction between shop opening hours and employees’ working hours; in other words, shops may remain open for longer than the law stipulates for employees.

Reaction of trade unions

The trade unions largely welcomed the new legislation. Despite reservations regarding specific clauses and the perceived need for further improvements, the main trade union organisations were optimistic that the new regulations would help lay down principles and provide protection for employees in the retail sector, a sector which has for years been characterised by deregulation and constant violations.

In a statement issued on 6 December 2006, the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PΕΟ) also pointed out that the final proposal on the contents of the law, as submitted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων), adopted many of the recommendations of the trade union movement. Such recommendations include maintaining Wednesday as a half day’s holiday, ensuring all holidays by law, providing three extra days off with pay, appointing inspectors to monitor and control the implementation of the law, and imposing deterrent penalties in cases where the law is violated.

Eva Soumeli, INEK/PEO

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