Overview: Germany closes an unmanned shop on Sunday; how pious is Europe?

13-01-2024

European Union

Joe-Lize Kruijsse-Brugge, CNE.news

People are shopping on the market in The Hague. In the Netherlands, Sunday opening times are determined by municipal governments. Photo ANP, Freek van den Bergh

German shop owners thought they could circumvent the state ban on Sunday work. However, they miscalculated the piety of the state. However, not all European countries take Sunday rest so seriously.

In the German state of Hesse, you may only work on Sunday in an essential job. Supermarket chain Tegut thought of a way to circumvent this ban: it opened a store without employees, PRO writes. Therefore, it did not violate the protection regulations for employees.

However, the Hessian Administrative Court closed the supermarket, because it did break the mandatory Sunday rest in the state. The Administrative Court confirmed that Sunday protection is also about “the preservation of an essential cultural asset”, Tagesschau writes.

The German Sunday rest has Christian roots. It is based on the fact that the Bible not only says that people should not work on the Sabbath but have to rest on that day as well.

Sunday rest

Germany is not the only country that enforces Sunday rest. Many European countries have legislation known as “blue laws”. Several of them have an active organisation that promotes Sunday rest, such as Germany and Switzerland. There is also a European Sunday Alliance that combines these forces to promote a work-free Sunday.

In Austria, a provision in the Work Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz) allows several exceptions to the existing ban on Sunday work. Now, a company may require an employee to work up to four weekends or holidays per year, the Freier Sonntag Allianz (Free Sunday) writes. The organisation fears that this regulation softens the Sunday rest. Earlier, employees were entitled to have each Sunday off.

However, some measures still ensure that Sunday is a resting day. For example, stricter rules apply to noise disturbances.

It must be noted that regulations differ per region in Austria.


Poland

In Poland, Sunday rest is sacred as well. Only cultural, sporting or tourist services are allowed. Last year, some entrepreneurs tried to find their way around the ban by offering these services in addition to their main business. However, the Supreme Court was quick to condemn this practice.

The Polish ban on Sunday shopping has been in place since 2018. Stores were allowed to open their doors on two Sundays each month. Since 2020, the rules have become stricter, and shopping is now almost impossible on Sundays. Marlena Maląg, the Minister of Family, too, stressed that the Sunday is for family and prayer, and not for spending time in the store.


Croatia

In Croatia, stores can open on 16 Sundays each year. The others, staff should be able to spend with their family, the Croatian government decided last year. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic explained that Sundays should be “His day”, referring to God. Critics of the new law accuse him of trying to increase church attendance instead of strengthening families, Central European Times writes.

Gas stations, stores of airports, hospitals and bus and railway stations are excepted from the Sunday shopping ban. Corner shops and bakeries have permission to open their doors from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Portugal

In Portugal, most businesses open their doors on Sunday. Legislation gives each employee the right to designate one day of the week as a resting day, but it does not need to be Sunday. Oftentimes, schedules do not allow workers to take Sunday off each week, CNE reported earlier.

Yet, many Portuguese consider Sunday a day of rest. Last year, a Catholic organisation campaigned for a work-free Sunday.

At the same time, it is not likely that the legislation in Portugal will change quickly.


Netherlands

In the Netherlands, it is up to municipalities to decide about Sunday opening times. The law is based on the principle that stores are closed on Sundays. However, municipalities can permit shop owners to open their doors.

In 2021, the Dutch Lower House adopted a resolution that protects business owners against forced opening times on Sundays. Before that time, branch organisations could force their members to open their stores. Those who refused could get fined.


France

France abolished its shopping ban for Sundays in 2015. Municipalities received the authority to decide whether stores could open on Sunday. In addition, the government allowed municipalities to create “tourist zones”. Touristy regions can decide to extend Sunday opening hours The Local writes.

The restrictions on Sunday opening times are not religiously motivated in France, but based on the welfare of employees.


Spain

Each autonomous region in Spain may decide about Sunday opening times. Most allow the opening of stores one Sunday a month. In some regions, there are no restrictions on Sunday openings at all. For example, in the area of Madrid, shopping malls, supermarkets and other stores have been open each Sunday since 2012.


Sweden

Sweden has no legislative provisions for a work-free Sunday. The law only states that workers should get two consecutive days off work each week but does not specify which days, Lagen writes.

Even though Sweden dismissed legal punishment for working on Sundays already in 1948, there is a general principle in the country that holidays and Sundays should be non-working days.


Ukraine

Sundays are mandatory days of rest in Ukraine. Labour laws state that employees have the right to a period of 42 hours of rest after a work week. However, under martial law, this period of rest can be reduced to 24 hours, Multiplier writes. As Sunday is a mandatory rest day, employees would only have this day off in this case.


Hungary

Hungarian law does not specify Sunday as a mandatory day of rest. Most stores in Budapest, for example, open their doors almost every Sunday. The legislation in the country only states that employees must get one Sunday off each month.

This liberal Sunday law (or rather the absence of a law at all) has not always been in place. In 2015, Prime Minister Victor Orbán instituted the Sunday as a “Christian day of rest”. However, this measure was already abolished a year later.


Religious reasons

It is remarkable that most countries still have a starting point of closure on Sundays. However, most of them seem to leave these roots by allowing several exceptions to the rule or even abolishing the existing Sunday regulations altogether.

In addition, most countries that do have regulations for a work-free Sunday do not enforce them for religious reasons. Oftentimes, they refer to the labour law and workers’ rights as a reason to keep Sunday work-free.

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