In an age where you can buy anything from a TV to a pint of milk at the click of a button at midnight on a Sunday evening, it is ridiculous that restrictions still exist for large stores. Internet shopping has reformed the consumer market and thus overdue changes to trading hours are desperately needed.
The Sunday Trading Act 1994 states that ‘large’ shops are only allowed to trade for six hours on a Sunday. Originally, this law was implemented to prevent the monopoly of supermarkets chains and allow independent corner shops to survive. Yet, when your option is to go to a Tesco Superstore or a Tesco Express, this original intention has now become redundant.
The law has become completely anachronistic. Large stores are defined as those ‘which has a relevant floor area exceeding 280 square meters’, however what reasoning justifies those shops covering 279 square feet to be non-exploitative and those over 280 square feet to be exploitative to the point where they still require restrictive legislation is beyond me.
This is no more apparent than when considering workers’ rights. Why should Sundays continue to be preserved as special days for workers in a large Tesco’s store, but not for those workers in a Tesco Express? No wonder supermarket giants like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose oppose any relaxation or removal of trading restrictions on a Sunday. They have the smaller express stores that charge more for products than their larger counterparts.
And indeed, staff are still required to work in buildings over 280 square feet every Sunday anyway. Nurses and Doctors must work in Hospitals, Police and Prison guards must protect our society, Bartenders must pour your drinks, and security staff must work in airports when you want to fly on holiday on a Sunday evening. Yet none of these working roles are described as exploitative.
The Sunday Trading Act is over 20 years old, and society has changed over those 20 years. The number of individuals who go to church every week is estimated to be around 9%, and yet religious grounds are still claimed as one of the most compelling reasons to restrict trading on a Sunday. Many countries who have a much higher church attendance have totally deregulated trading hours. 32% of individuals still attend Church every week in Ireland, and in Poland and Slovakia the turnout is 45% and 28% respectively – yet none of these countries have restrictions. The argument no longer adds up.
The short relaxation that was permitted over the Olympic Games saw a real consumer appetite for deregulated trading hours. Sales increased by 2.8% in London and by 6.2% outside London, which is not only good for big business but small business too. Deregulation of trading hours is what needs to happen –consumers can shops whenever they want at the lowest price and workers can work whenever they choose. To uphold restrictions in this day and age is backward looking and unnecessary.