Government Yet Again Tells Lithuanians Not to Work

Creative Commons

With Lithuanian Parliamentary elections approaching, Lithuanian MPs like magicians are pulling out of a hat same old populistic laws. Once again they are trying to push through an old and already bashed suggestion that prohibits people from working on holidays.

MPs want to prohibit retail shops from working on January 1, February 16 (Independence Day), March 11 (Restoration of Independence Day), Easter, July 6 (coronation day) and Christmas. There are no economic arguments for the legislation. Only anecdotes that workers can’t spend holidays with their families. Seems like everyone in retail sector is like Cinderella who works 20 hours a day, 8 days a week and only remember his or her families from pictures. But the Labor code sets the same vacation and resting rules for all workers. Retailers are not excluded in any way.

Let us not forget that not only retailers work on holidays. This also includes taxi drivers, musicians, cafe and bar staff even police officers, firefighters and doctors. In other words, anyone who has to and wants to work. Moreover, according to the Lithuanian law, those who work on holidays are entitled to a double hourly wage. But instead, our MPs suggest not only to lower the number of work places, but also to deprive people of a chance to make more money.

Let us break down this prohibition and see what it actually means for an employee. Let’s take Greece as an example. The country is in an economic turmoil. European Commission, IMF and other countries are doing their best trying pull Greeks out of disaster. Partners urge them to liberlise labour laws and to let shops work as much as they wish, as it is one of the ways to liven up the economy. Lithuanian MPs say just the opposite – do not work.

There are many countries that abolish outdated retail shop prohibitions that date back to the 1930s. Sweden, USA, Australia went down the road of liberalisation. These countries became more competitive and productive compared to their counterparts who still regulate the retail sector strictly. With less limitations shops made more money. With more money they can increase their investment and provide more efficient and satisfactory customer service. It is difficult to argue that you are more likely to make more money if you adjust to the needs of the consumer.

OECD (the same organization that Lithuania strives to get into) states that when Sweden let its retailers to work more, they have earned more. This has led to a more rapid expansion and in a higher number of workplaces. In the USA the states that have abolished old regulations have seen a higher increase in a number of workplaces compared to the states where such regulations remained.

Also we should not make mistakes that such regulations are common. On the contrary. Ireland, England, Bulgaria, Czech, Georgia, Croatia, Estonia, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey do not have restrictions on the holiday working hours. Some of the countries have limitations on Christmas and Christmas Eve, but it can not compared to the prohibition to work on 6 days, like it is now proposed in Lithuania.

Maybe someone has seen that shops in these countries do not work on holidays, but it does not mean that it is due to some ban. Shops set their own working hours according to the amount of customers. No shop will work if there is no profit to it. The same goes for Lithuanian shops and malls, some of which do not work on certain days. But the rationale behind it is the same as in other countries. Shops choose to do so, because it is not worth it, not because of government bans.

MPs that propose these legislations puff their chests and proudly claim that with such prohibitions people will start showing more respect to state holidays. Unfortunately, evidence shows that such limitations will only make a part of the shop workers show the respect while being unemployed. The sadest part is that it will affect the most vulnerable part of the workforce that can barely cling to their current jobs – the least qualified and the young ones. And retail shops have a lot of these workers. It is they who will be sacrificed to “respecting” the state holidays.

Let us not forget the customers. Where will they shop on these days? Nowhere. Ran out of Christmas wine, mayonnaise for Easter eggs or some meat for the grill party on July 6? Nobody cares, you will have to buy all of that the other day. Even more, the MPs claim that one should not go shopping on holidays, because that is immoral. Let me ask, since when the work or commerce in general means disrespecting your country?

On the contrary it is the work, commerce and collaboration rather than laziness that grows our country. With its term coming to an end, the Parliament, who always talks about more workplaces, should not push forward legislations that do just the opposite. If they want to help Lithuanians create their own country, the least they could do is not get in the way of people who are eager to work and earn a decent living.

Dominykas Sumskis