Sunday Labour Laws – Comparing the Opening Times of Four Multinational Stores
Traditionally observed as the “Lord’s Day” in Christian societies, Sundays have for centuries been designated as a day of worship and rest. Today, however, with differences in commercial liberalisation and religious attendance, Sundays opening hours vary significantly across Europe.
In this study, we examine the different Sunday Trading Laws between European countries. Four stores were selected - Louis Vuitton, H&M, Lidl and Aldi – based on their size and prevalence across Europe. H&M stores are located in the city centres, Lidl and Aldi stores are situated as close as possible to the centre, and Louis Vuitton shops are located in designated touristic areas (usually the city centre).
Trading Laws in Europe vary greatly from capital to capital, but also within different areas of the city itself. Why is there such a variation between countries, and what factors affect the opening hours of each country?
For decades, Germany has had the most restrictive shopping hours in Europe, particularly on Sundays. From the 1950s to 1996, German stores were regulated by the Ladenschlussgesetz ("Shop Closing Law"), a federal law introduced after pressure from the trade unions. It meant shops could only open from 7am to 6.30pm on weekdays and 2pm on Saturdays. Then, once a month, stores could open two hours later on the so-called “long Saturdays”.
Most German stores, with exceptions to airport, train and gas station shops, were never allowed to open on Sundays, though, due to resistance from churches and politicians.
Today, shops and supermarkets are legally allowed to stay open until midnight on Saturdays, but usually don’t do so. In 2006, a new rule was introduced giving shops in Berlin the freedom to choose when they open from Monday to Saturdays, known as the “6x24-Regelung”.
H&M, Louis Vuitton, Aldi and Lidl in Berlin all stay open from Monday to Saturday, but are shut on Sundays.
Shops in Belgium can be open from 5am to 9pm every day of the week, but shop owners aren’t allowed to employ staff on Sundays. The exception to this are smaller shops, such as bakeries or florist, that can open until 1pm on Sundays. Legislation from 1974 states that a shop owner is obliged to designate a rest period of 24 hours each week, and can change this day only after 6 months.
Our research shows that generally stores generally close on Sundays. Louis Vuitton was the only store open for 4 hours on Sundays due to its location in a designated tourist area.
France is known for its strong labour unions, and this is reflected in Sunday Trading laws. Similar to Belgium, shop owners, including bakeries and florists, who do not employ anyone can have their stores open on Sundays, unless specifically authorised.
Shops in designated areas, usually tourist areas, are allowed to open on Sundays in exchange for proven financial compensation for employees working during those hours. Again, similarly to Belgium, Louis Vuitton remains open on Sunday because of its touristic location in the Champs-Elysées.
In the Netherlands
In Holland, legislation is a little more complex. In Dutch trading law, shops must close on Sundays, but there are some exceptions. Shops can open twelve Sundays a year on days chosen by the local council. However, in the Christian-dominated Bible Belt area, little use is made of this due to pressure from conservative Christians.
Shops with a late-night licence, or situated in the city centres (including major cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague), or designated tourist areas, can open every Sunday. A Sunday on which shops are opened is known as a koopzondag in Dutch, literally "buying Sunday".
In Ireland, Italy, Spain
Surprisingly, opening hours are not regulated in these typically-Catholic countries. Stores are permitted to pick their opening hours on all days of the week (including public holidays). Commercial liberalisation during the 1980s it seems overtook any religious tradition.
Dublin and Rome show the longest opening hours of the stores we studied, whilst in Madrid, Lidl and Aldo close slightly earlier. In Spain, the large supermarkets are currently pushing for complete liberalisation, whilst the smaller family-run shops, who cannot afford extra staff to open on Sundays, and pushing back.
In Sweden, despite having robust labour laws, there are no restrictions on the opening hours of Swedish stores, and Lidl, Louis Vuitton and H&M all open on Sundays (Aldi doesn’t trade in Sweden). Systembolaget, a government-owned liquor store monopoly, is the only exception, and is not permitted to open on Sundays.
In United Kingdom
In the UK, hours vary from country to country. In Scotland, trading hours aren’t restricted on Sundays, which means shop owners can pick their opening hours freely. In Northern Ireland, however, shops are only allowed to open between 1pm and 6pm, under the Sunday Trading (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 (a law which doesn’t include pubs).
In England and Wales, since 1994 shops bigger than 280 square meters can only open for a period of 6 hours. Smaller shops (<280 m2), on the other hand, can open whenever.
Sundays opening times vary greatly from country to country within Europe. It would appear that trade unions and Christian conservatives are in different stages of conflict with the corporations who wish to stay open longer. Labour laws in Germany, France and Belgium traditions still resonate in the present opening hours, whilst in other countries restrictions can be much less strict.
We found that stores’ locations also play a role in Sunday opening hours. Often if a store is located in a designated touristic area (usually the city centre), or in airport or railway station, stores won’t have any restriction on Sunday opening times.