Sunday openings ‘shock’ critics

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Norway’s conservative government wants stores to be able to open on Sundays if they choose to do so, but its proposal presented on Friday was blasted by both labour and business organizations. They expressed “shock” and “disappointment” over the proposed law to allow Sunday openings, even though it would give consumers more choice.

Store aisles may be filled with customers on Sunday, if the government gets its way. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Store aisles may be filled with customers on Sunday, if the government gets its way. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“We are both disappointed and shocked because we have wanted a dialogue over this from day one,” Harald Andersen of the retailing organization Virke told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “If you’re going to make changes in the framework for opening hours, all parts must be able to determine whether there’s a need for the changes.” He doesn’t think the government has allowed for that.

Stores in Norway currently are not allowed to open on Sundays unless they’re smaller than 100 square meters in size or located at transport hubs like train stations or airports, or areas frequented by tourists. The proposal presented by three government ministers on Friday would remove the state ban on Sunday openings, and only demand that stores remain closed on 12 legal holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

Liberalization move
“Not everyone has the same day off,” reasoned Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey of the Conservative Party. “We propose that stores be able to open on Sundays.” She and Labour Minister Robert Eriksson from the Progress Party and Trade Minister Monica Mæland, also from the Conservatives, want to liberalize and simplify regulations regarding retail operating hours in Norway. Mæland said retailers can chose whether they want to take advantage of the liberalization.

It’s seldom that business organizations like Virke and labour organizations like LO agree on such issues, but in this case they do. It’s also seldom that business organizations don’t embrace liberalization that would allow them to do more business, or that labour organizations don’t embrace a measure that can create more jobs. Yet Virke, trade union federation LO and the powerful employers’ organization NHO are united in their opposition.

‘Not family-friendly’
“This is not a family-friendly proposal,” claimed Peggy Hessen Følsvik of LO. She claimed the proposal has no consideration for retail employees who may be forced to work on Sundays or for store owners and their desires. Many, it seems, want to remain regulated by the state and be “forced” to take off on Sundays. At any rate, they don’t want to work on Sundays, but fear they’ll lose out if they choose to remain closed while the competition opens. Virke and NHO also warn that prices will rise if stores open on Sundays, because retailers’ costs will rise.

Many young people including students support the liberalization because they want the jobs it can create. Consumer organizations also support it because consumers will have more choices.

Changing society
Others claim Sunday openings will forever change Norwegian society, in which Sundays are relatively and used for recreation, not least the ubiquitous Sunday strolls or hikes in Norway. The existing ban on Sunday openings, lifted only during the Christmas shopping season, “is valuable, because it gives us a common day that’s mostly without work,” Cathrine Sandnes, leader of analysis firm Manifest. “It gives society a certain rhythm.”

Mæland disagrees, noting that liberalization won’t force Norwegians to go shopping. She also thinks the current regulations governing opening hours are complicated and irrational: “You can, for example, shop at tourist centers like (the mountain town of ) Geilo but not in Oslo, which is the biggest tourist hub in Norway,” she said. The minority government coalition wants to standardize opening hours across the board and appears to have support from the Liberal Party, giving it a majority in Parliament.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund