Fight looms over Sunday shopping

Bookmark and Share

Norwegians flocked to stores that legally stayed open on Sundays during the Christmas shopping season, and even the head of the Christian Democrats party confessed that he was among them. Knut Arild Hareide and some other opposition politicians in Parliament, though, don’t want Sunday shopping to be allowed all year round, and promise to keep fighting a government proposal to ease restrictions on retailers’ opening hours.

Norway's Christmas shopping season kicked off this weekend, with crowds expected to increase along Karl Johans Gate. PHOTO: Views and News

Norway’s Christmas shopping season included three Sundays with stores open in the afternoon. Debate continues over whether that should continue all year long. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“Do we really want this (stores open on Sundays) the whole year?” queried Hareide during the last “question hour” in the Parliament before the Christmas and New Year recess. His answer was a clear “no,” as he cited a recent public opinion poll conducted for newspaper Dagbladet that indicated only 26 percent of Norwegians want to go shopping on Sunday. The poll also indicated that fully 58 percent oppose Sunday openings.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg reminded Hareide, though, that when voters went to the polls in September, they ushered in a majority of parties that want stores to be allowed to open on Sunday if they want to, including her own Conservative Party (Høyre). “That tells me a lot,” Solberg said, standing firm on her government’s proposal to allow retailers the freedom of opening or staying closed.

‘Freedom revolution’
“This is a freedom revolution,” Solberg said from the podium in parliament, making it clear she and the Conservatives won’t back down on the store-opening initiative. They have the support of their coalition partner, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), and the Liberal Party (Venstre).

Solberg stressed that no store owners would be forced into opening on Sundays. Rather, she said, they will finally have the opportunity to do so.

Hareide didn’t give up, claiming it was better for family life and the public health if shopping wasn’t an option on Sundays. Solberg wasn’t convinced, saying “folks can go for a hike on Saturdays” instead of the traditional Sunday trek.

Labour issue
She faces opposition from both labour and employer organizations, despite the jobs that Sunday openings could create, while some retailing organizations worry they lack the labour force to provide enough staffing. Labour and business also opposed the first easing of restrictions on opening hours back in the 1980s, when all stores were still forced to close at 5pm on weekdays, except Thursdays when they stayed open a few hours longer, and in mid-afternoon on Saturdays.

Norway has “opened up” considerably since then, and stores that are 100 square meters or less, or located at key transport or tourism centers already can open on Sundays. Solberg wants to remove the final restrictions, despite the objections from Hareide’s Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF), who otherwise have declared themselves a “support party” for the government.

“We know that KrF is opposed, and always has been,” “But Høyre, Frp and Venstre have been clear about favouring Sunday openings for a long time,” Trond Helleland, the leader of Høyre’s parliamentary group, told newspaper Aftenposten earlier this month. “We must follow through on this.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund