After the political and economic revolution of 1989, central and eastern European countries have made an incredible effort to catch up with the living standards in the West. Flexible market regulations, in particular in retail trade, were among the factors which speeded up the transition. On the whole, CEE countries – including Poland – still positively stand out in this respect among its European peers. Yet, this might soon come to an end as Poland’s governing party (LAw and Justice, PiS) is planning to introduce significant restrictions on Sunday trade.
Flexible Trade Regulations – Poland’s Growth Factor
Shop owners in Poland are currently almost free to decide when they open and close their businesses (except on 13 official public holidays). And indeed, many of them open the doors on Sundays and late evenings. Visitors from countries such as Germany or Austria, where Sunday trade is only exceptionally possible, or Luxembourg where shops typically close at 8 pm, are pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of shops and services in Polish cities. While other European countries have been systematically lifting the restrictions on Sunday trade (seven countries have done so over the last few years), Poland’s governing party wants to go in the opposite direction and allow shops opening only every second Sunday. The proposal came in response to the demands of the Catholic Church and right-wing trade unions, and is likely to be voted in the Parliament still this autumn.
Those who support the restrictions argue with the need to protect employees and their right for family time. I think it is simply not the states’ business to decide what citizens should do on Sunday: to work, shop, go to a cinema, or rather a church. It is needless to say that some of the hard-working Poles only find time during the weekend to do their shopping; others just consider it a pleasant pastime. And, again, it is not up to the state to judge what is in this respect right or wrong. Besides the theoretical considerations on the role of the state in a democratic country, the restrictions of Sunday trade will have very tangible negative consequences for the employees and for the whole economy.
Employees’ Preferences: Not Everybody Is the Same
Estimating the precise impact of the restrictions on employment in the trade sector is difficult, but it would be extremely naïve to believe that there will be no impact, as some supporters of the restrictions argue. Consumption and shopping patterns will necessarily have to adjust, for example we can expect further increase in on-line trade. This will translate into job cuts: according to PwC research even over 80 thousand jobs can disappear as a result of trade restrictions.
Let’s also note who typically works in retail trade: predominantly young people and women, many of them still in education. These groups are among the most vulnerable in the labour market and it might not be easy for them to find a new job. Finally, there are people who actually prefer to work during the weekends: mainly students, but also people who face any type of circumstances (e.g. child care) which prevents them from working during the week. Trade restrictions deprive them from the possibility of earning some extra money for the education or the family, while remaining active on the labour market.
The Fragile Consumption and Its Impacts
The impact of trade restrictions on the whole economy will be mainly through reduced consumption. Some argue that people will anyway buy what they need but simply on other days. This might not be entirely true, especially for goods such as clothing, household items and others which are often purchased impulsively. Further, higher reliance on-line trade might increase the share of imported goods at the expense of domestic production. Finally, 67% of tourist stays in Poland happen on weekends: closed shops on Sunday will translate into significantly decreased revenues generated by foreign customers. According to PwC, the overall losses in revenues in retail trade can exceed 2 billion euro. One should also not forget second round effects. Closed shopping centres on Sunday will also impact the revenues of restaurants, cafes and services.
Restricting trade on Sundays will just make everybody worse: the clients, the businesses, the employees, even the states’ budget. Imposing these restrictions, against the will of most Polish people, is another act of power by Law and Justice. It is meant as a signal that they can and will control every aspect of the citizens’ lives.