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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 June 2020

Resist relaxation of Sunday trading laws - retail workers need a break too!

  (Click to enlarge)

Iain Dalton, Usdaw Broad Left chair

Since rumours emerged in the media about the government considering a one-year relaxation of Sunday trading regulations (which currently mean shops above 3,000 square feet can only open for six hours between 10am and 6pm on a Sunday), the leadership of retail workers' union Usdaw has finally started moving into action, with press releases denouncing the move and a tool to e-mail your local MP.

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, it has been obvious this could be a target, with several councils relaxing enforcement of Sunday trading regulations, including Labour-controlled councils like Wakefield. There has been a concerted campaign among backbench MPs to relax Sunday Trading laws - predominantly Tory - but also including some Labour too!

But the most serious was the deliberate flouting of the regulations by the UK's fourth biggest retailer, Morrisons, where Usdaw is the recognised union.

Just days before the rumours of the year-long relaxation, Usdaw members received the latest issue of Usdaw's all-members Arena magazine, quoting general secretary Paddy Lillis saying "we are not going to pursue this", referring to these attacks on the legislation.

Now time must be urgently made up. We welcome the changed stance of the union since this in proactively fighting. But Usdaw needs to go further in mobilising its membership to fight these proposals.

An important way to do this during lockdown conditions would be to hold an online rally of members, as Usdaw's sister union, Mandate, did in support of Debenhams workers in Ireland. This could begin to galvanise union members for the fight ahead.

Socialist Party members in Usdaw have launched an online petition against this threat - please sign and share it. Search 'No to extending Sunday trading in retail - retail workers deserve a break' at change.org


Amy Murphy, Usdaw president (personal capacity) says:

Sunday trading has been, and continues to be a contentious topic, with the government's last attempt falling flat when David Cameron was forced to scrap a vote on plans to relax Sunday trading laws in 2015.

In the run up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Sunday Trading Laws were suspended during July, August and September.

At the time, the government insisted this was a one-off and not a prelude to a permanent change. Really, I ask myself. Then how come the temporary relaxation of Sunday Trading Laws is once again being talked about?

Supporting our key workers on the frontline during this pandemic is crucial. But let's not forget the other key workers in the mix. I am referring to shop workers of which I am one.

As well as helping key workers, the other reason mentioned is this relaxation will be really important for the recovery phase for retailers when they get up and running again. This poses the question how long is a bit of string, and when does temporary become the norm?

Let's not forget that shop workers have families, and the Sunday Trading Laws are very important in society as they allow families to spend quality time together, and also rest time. Any relaxation will put more pressure on employees. All it does is favour big businesses and stop employees spending time with their families.

People only have the same amount of money to spend, so although the Sunday spend may go up, it will just come from elsewhere in the week. There is also the added risk that customer demand will be displaced from small stores to large stores, as happened during the Olympics, with convenience stores losing sales threatening jobs on the high street.

Most of the big retailers have already put in measures to allow frontline key workers and those who are vulnerable to have extra access to do their shopping.

Relaxing the Sunday Trading Laws is not the answer. The only beneficiaries would be big businesses. Let's put our workers first and do the right thing by them, while supporting the frontline workers at the same time.

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