Any effort to relax Sunday trading laws have been condemned as “misguided” and “grossly unfair” to key workers by union leaders.
Any change would ignore the childcare challenges that many shop workers face while also stopping them from having a much-needed break on Sundays during the highly-pressurised coronavirus crisis, they said.
In contrast, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) argues that “businesses need to be given every possible opportunity to start to generate sales again”.
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers), said: “The last thing the retail industry needs is longer trading hours, there is no economic case for this and it will put extra pressure on the retail workers who have worked so hard throughout this crisis.”
His comments come after reports of Government plans to suspend Sunday trading laws for a year to try and stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus crisis.
Larger supermarkets could open for more than six hours on Sundays while cafes and pubs would be given fast-track approval to serve food and drink outside, doing away with the need for the 28-day minimum statutory consultation period, according to The Times.
Mr Lillis said: “Opening for longer will increase overheads but not necessarily take any more cash through the tills. The fact is that customers will not have more to spend just because the shops are open for longer.
“Our members in retail are working long hours, in difficult circumstances and under a great deal of pressure, they need a break. It isn’t too much to ask for a shorter day on Sundays.
“Deregulating trading hours will put more pressure on shop workers to work longer and cause further problems with finding childcare.”
He has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma asking him not to change Sunday trading hours as it would come across as “an opportunistic use of the coronavirus crisis and a slap in the face for each and every worker in retail and the food supply chain”.
Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said that retail workers, who have played a key frontline role in keeping the UK fed and supplied during lockdown, are “exhausted and deserve to spend time with their families”.
She said: “The Government must understand that many retail workers have to work around childcare and by extending Sunday opening hours it will create additional stress and make it impossible for many workers to juggle work and their caring duties.”
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Changing the current laws would serve only to displace trade from the local shops that have been keeping communities going during this pandemic.”
The Sunday Trading Act of 1994 allows large stores to open for no more than six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm.
Former prime minister David Cameron was forced to drop plans to extend Sunday trading hours in 2016 after suffering a humiliating Commons defeat which saw 27 Tories joining forces with opposition parties.
BCC director general Adam Marshall said: “If there are rules that can be relaxed to give more companies a fighting chance to trade their way through this crisis without compromising safety, ministers should do everything in their power to make it happen.”
Picture: File photo, dated 27th May 2020, shows a woman wearing a face mask walking along a high street in Walthamstow, East London. (Victoria Jones/PA).