New quarrel over Sunday openings

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Norway’s conservative coalition government is moving ahead with its proposal to allow stores to open on Sundays, and that’s set off new protests from one of its support parties in Parliament. The Christian Democrats were already upset over the government’s deportation of rejected refugee families, and now they’re threatening to end their support for the minority coalition.

Most stores in downtown Oslo and elsewhere around the country are forced by law to remain closed on Sundays. The conservative government wants to allow all stores to open if they so choose, but faces strong opposition. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Most stores in downtown Oslo and elsewhere around the country are forced by law to remain closed on Sundays. The conservative coalition government wants to allow all stores to open if they so choose, but faces strong opposition. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“This is a declaration of war over the values of the Christian Democrats,” the leader of the Christian Democrats youth group, Emil André Erstad, told newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend. “Given the situation between us at present, it’s surprising that the government has chosen to put this (the proposal for Sunday store openings) forward right now.”

On Friday, just before Norway launched into its traditional Easter holidays, the government sent two proposals out to hearing; one that would allow stores of all sizes to open on Sundays if they want to, and one that give local governments permission to allow store openings if they saw fit. The latter, aimed at offering local instead of state control over the issue, is meant to accommodate the wishes of the minority government coalition’s other support party, the Liberals. The government needs the support of either or both parties in order to win a majority in Parliament.

The two support parties themselves disagree on the issue of Sunday store openings. The Liberals want to liberalize current restrictions that only allow small stores of 100 square meters or less or those located at transport hubs and in tourist areas to open on Sundays. The Christian Democrats want to keep Sundays “holy,” and free from any more commercial business.

Opposition parties including Labour also are against Sunday openings, despite the new jobs that would create. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Monday that as many as 290,000 people employed within retailing and wholesaling in Norway would be required to work on Sundays if either of the government’s proposed law changes wins approval. Labour unions have branded Sunday openings as “family-unfriendly,” and object to imposing Sunday hours on yet another sector of the labour market even though those working would likely receive premium pay. At present, most of those working in stores that already are open on Sundays are students and others needing extra jobs.

The government’s proposal comes right when the Christian Democrats already are upset over the asylbarna issue, which involves the deportation last year of refugee families whose applications for asylum had been rejected even though their children had lived most of their lives in Norway. Both the Christian Democrats and the Liberals thought they had an agreement with the government that families who had been in Norway for several years would be allowed to stay. Now they’re demanding that at least the cases of those with children who had been in Norway for more than four-and-a-half years be reevaluated.

The politicians all ended up heading off for the Easter holidays with the issue unresolved. Knut Arild Hareide has suggested he’ll pose an ultimatum, that either the cases of the deported children are reopened or his party will break out of its support agreement with the government. Now the proposal to also let stores open on Sundays has ignited tensions further, but the government is unrepentant. “This shouldn’t come as any surprise,” said government minister Thorhild Widvey of the Conservative Party. “We think supply and demand should regulate which days stores are open, and we already have Sunday openings now. We think the same rules should apply to all.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund