As Christmas approaches Czechs are taking the shops by storm and salespeople are anticipating high profits. With almost no restrictions on opening hours, Czechs can shop till they drop, but that may be about to change. The lower house is preparing to debate a bill which would force supermarkets and shopping malls to close down for the holidays.
The Czech Republic has one of the densest networks of supermarkets and shopping malls on the continent and Czechs are used to the fact that most of them are open from early morning till late at night almost all year round. The only exceptions are December 25 and January 1st. Restrictions on shopping hours on public holidays, which are in place in most European countries, have met with strong opposition from Czech consumers and although bills to that effect have been proposed with unfailing regularity these past few years MPs inevitably bowed to public sentiment and sales lobbies.
This year the topic is once again back on the agenda of the lower house. On the table is a Senate approved bill under which all large stores would have to close on all public holidays, including Easter and Christmas. Although opinion polls indicate that the majority of Czechs would prefer to have shops open and 65 percent of respondents said the state had no reason to interfere in the matter, it seems that this time around more deputies may be inclined to support the proposal. The author of the bill Senator František Bublan of the Social Democrats argues that the Czech Republic should follow the example of its European neighbours and give public holidays the dignity they deserve. Deputy Radka Maxová from the ANO party points out that sales employees have the right to spend Christmas with their families just like everyone else.
Meanwhile, the Union of Trade which has long fought the idea of restricted opening hours, has dismissed the claim that sales employees are forced to work on public holidays arguing that the pay for public holiday shifts is double the usual and people always want to make some extra cash. In case they don’t sales companies simply get students to fill in for the holidays, they say.
“Salespeople are against this regulation. We are convinced that it is the customer and the customer alone who should be left to decide this matter.”
If it were left to the customer, shops would remain open. The majority of Czechs say they generally shop on public holidays, either because they didn’t have time during the work-week, because they ran out of something or simply because a day off gives them the opportunity to shop at leisure and spend as much time as they want browsing. Some people even treat a day at the shopping mall as an outing for the family with lunch at a fast food outlet.
If the Senate-proposed bill wins approval in the lower house this could be their last chance to do so. Next year the shops would remain closed on eight public holidays –including three days over Christmas.
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