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Poland: The Restraint in Retail that got out of hand

In Poland, 2018 started off with a revolution for retail employees. On 10th January 2018 the Act on Restraint of Retail Trade on Sundays, Holidays and other days entered into force. The Act was initiated by the biggest Polish trade union – NSZZ Solidarnosc and their intention was to improve the life and working conditions of retail employees, especially the ones working in supermarkets and shopping malls. Before the Act had been implemented, work in retail during weekends was omnipresent, with a limitation that an employee performing work on Sundays should have had at least one work-free Sunday in every 4 weeks. In addition, the lawmakers’ goal and business rationale was to support small and medium-sized shops.

Restraint or prohibition?

As such restrictions of retail had never before been present in Poland after 1989, the prohibition of retail trade on Sundays was implemented step by step by lowering the number of working Sundays. According to this pattern, in 2018 retail trade was prohibited on the second and the third Sunday of each month. In 2019, retail activity is permitted only the last Sunday of each month. In 2020 retail trade shall be prohibited on each Sunday except of seven determined Sundays in the calendar year (for instance around Easter or Christmas holidays).

The backfire

Not long after the Act entered into force it became clear that the praiseworthy ideas do not result in desirable effects. The Act itself contains such a big number of exceptions, that in fact its implementation led to nothing but an unequal treatment of retail employees, as some of them have stopped working on Sundays at all and some of them continued to work 3 Sundays a month in a row. The new law excluded many from the possibility to earn extra, for whom working on Sundays was an intentional choice and for whom working only on Saturdays turned out to be unprofitable and onerous when comparing costs of transportation and an organizational effort (mainly students, retired persons). Employers reduced headcounts which resulted in an additional burden for employees (additional working hours, more duties, more stressful work environment especially on Saturdays). In addition, from the economic perspective the business goal (the support for small and medium-sized shops) has not been accomplished since the big supermarket chains have grown stronger and other entrepreneurs have lowered their incomes.

Looking for a remedy

Current surveys show that in retail employees’ opinion, instead of Sunday retail trade prohibition, the lawmakers should focus on implementing protection measures against abuses in the work organization. Solutions to mitigate the negative outcomes of the new law, both for employees and business, are now under consideration. One of them is to grant retail employees a choice whether to work on Sundays and allowing maximum two working Sundays per month. Recently, one of the nationwide trade unions proposed that working on Sundays in retail should be permitted provided that the appropriate financial compensation (2.5 times the daily pay for Sunday work) is granted by law. Up till now the lawmakers’ only remedy is to permit the work on Sundays in retail in the tourist locations, where the local retail was affected the most by current legal restraint and where the tourists’ needs justify such exception.

The upcoming year with the full restraint will show whether the change of law is desirable and an effective remedy is found. However, the general abolition of the Sunday retail trade ban is very unlikely.