On 24th November 2017 many customers in the US and other places in the world, including Poland, were looking for promotional sales offered by shops on the Black Friday. On the same day, the Polish parliament passed the law banning retail trade on Sundays.
The Sunday shopping ban will be introduced gradually and take effect on almost all Sundays by 2020. In 2018 the majority of the shops can be open only on the first and last Sunday of the. The policy supported by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party was drafted by one of the trade unions aligned with the government.
As the ruling party promised to implement the ban in exchange for the trade union’s political support the law was passed despite some criticism by the PiS government itself. The Civil Development Forum (FOR) wrote in 2017 “the policy makers should draw the right conclusions from their own assessment of the effects of this harmful regulation and abandon the idea of introducing the ban”. The original draft presented to the parliament was somehow softened e.g. by the gradual implementation of the ban or removal of the extremely harsh imprisonment punishment for breaking the law.
This new limitation of trade hours is a bad decision for consumers, employees and the retail sector.
Similar bans introduced in other countries had a negative impact on employment and caused loss of jobs. A review of empirical studies shows that in the majority of examined cases, limitations of opening days and hours reduced employment. For example, shop opening time restrictions contributed to the decline in employment in the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada.
Furthermore, the trading ban is another unnecessary restriction of entrepreneurial activity. There are over 30 exceptions from the ban which definitely does not create a level playing field for everyone on Sundays. The new regulations have exceptions favorable to small, less productive shops. Thus the ban will harm larger stores, supermarkets, and shopping malls.
Due to poor quality of the legislative process the law is very unclear and difficult to interpret for entrepreneurs. This makes the business community vulnerable to arbitrary decisions by state officials. This uncertain environment does not foster doing business in Poland.
Ultimately this law is an unjustified restriction of freedom. Consumers will lose their freedom of choice about when to do shopping and how to spend their time on Sundays. Consumers who work long hours during the week will be disproportionally impacted by the ban.
Unfortunately, the ruling lawmakers decided what is the best for the people instead of enabling the people to decide for themselves. One argument presented by supporters of the ban is that there are employees who are “forced” to work on Sundays. This very emotional argument may appeal to some people but it is a poor description of the reality. There’s no slavery in Poland and people can choose different professions, also in jobs that do not require Sunday work. Additionally, people who work on Sundays have another day off in accordance with the current labor code.
Something often left out of the conversation is that there are people who want to work on Sundays and have other days off. Banning shopping and working in the retail trade on Sundays is therefore unjustified restriction on personal freedom of many individuals in Poland.
Due to its gradual introduction the economic consequences of the ban will be to some extent diluted by its gradual implementation and the good economic shape Poland is in. Some shops are quick to adjust. This can be seen in case of the large supermarkets which are now using the ban in their advertisings to influence consumers’ behavior and encourage them to do larger purchases on other days. The ads include information about even better offers and increased number of staff on Fridays and Saturdays to meet the consumer needs.
The Sunday trading ban is only one of many policies criticized by think tanks such as the Polish Civil Development Forum (FOR) is less serious threat to Poland than damaging the rule of law and other attacks on institutions essential for democratic health. Almost all of the opinion polls presented prior to the ban indicated that majority of Poles were against the new restrictions. Hungary was the first CEE country introducing a Sunday shopping ban and even though Viktor Orban has a strong grip on his country the policy was so unpopular that is got abolished after merely one year. One can only hope the new policy will stimulate civil society activism among Polish people and successfully scraps the Sunday shopping ban.
This piece has been co-authored by Marek Tatala, Polish Economist and Vice-President at the Civil Development Forum (FOR).