Objections rise to Sunday shopping

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The Norwegian government’s proposal to allow all retailers to open for business on Sunday has met massive opposition. “No one wants this,” claims Trine Lise Sundnes, leader of a major union representing retail employees, while opposition parties are trying to block the measure in Parliament.

These government ministers (from left: Monica Mæland, Thorhild Widvey and Robert Eriksson) all want to let Norwegians go shopping on Sundays if they want to. Labour, business and political organizations are working hard to block such market liberalization. PHOTO: Næringsdepartementet

These government ministers (from left: Monica Mæland, Thorhild Widvey and Robert Eriksson) all want to let Norwegians go shopping on Sundays if they want to. Labour, business and political organizations are working hard to block such market liberalization. PHOTO: Næringsdepartementet

Sundnes, leader of the labour organization Handel og Kontor, told news bureau NTB that neither workers, retail employers nor consumers want the freedom to be able to shop on Sundays. Consumer advocates, however, have claimed otherwise, supporting the government’s long-anticipated proposal late last week to liberalize state law that now restricts opening hours.

The proposal would not force retailers to open for business on Sundays, but merely give them the option. Trade Minister Monica Mæland from the Conservative Party has stressed that the proposed deregulation would also “give folks greater freedom to shop when it suits them,” while also giving consumers greater choice.

Fellow government minister Thorhild Widvey, also from the Conservatives, defended the proposal by saying it’s based on a premise “that supply and demand are better suited than laws to regulate stores’ opening hours.” The proposed liberalization would only force stores to close on major public holidays including Christmas Day, Constitution Day on the 17th of May and 10 others.

Opponents lobbying hard
Trade union organization LO opposes the measure despite the jobs it could create, saying it fears for workers who may be forced to work on Sundays. Employers’ organizations NHO and Virke oppose it because of the costs it may entail for retailers and the pressure it could put on small businesses that would prefer to stay closed. Environmental organizations and the Greens Party in Parliament oppose it because they fear it would increase consumption and emissions from those who would drive to shopping centers on Sundays. Norway’s powerful grocery store owners claim Sunday openings will lead to even higher prices at the checkout counter.

Mæland disputes that, saying there’s no evidence prices would rise. The fate of the proposed deregulation rests with the small Liberal Party, one of the government’s two support parties that can give the government a majority in Parliament to approve the measure. The Liberals have supported more liberal store hours, but may insist that local governments be left to decide whether stores in their areas can open.

International support
The government, meanwhile, got some international support for its Sunday opening initiative from Tyler Brûlé, the founder of Wallpaper magazine who now edits Monocle and has created an international role for himself as a city- and lifestyle ideologist. In an interview with newspaper Dagens Næringsliv’s weekly magazine D2 during a recent visit to Oslo, Brûlé criticized Norway’s “five-and-a-half-day culture.”

“You don’t have the late opening hours, the late Saturday shopping and Sunday shopping, even though I expect that’s about to change,” Brûlé told D2. “Our view is that good cities shall give you the freedom to shop … when you want to.” He said other cities are much more open than Oslo, for example.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund