Naturally, Poles are divided when it comes to a Sunday trading ban in Poland that, from 2020, will see a ban on trade on all Sundays, apart from seven exceptions.
The Polish Catholic Church and the Solidarity Trade Union (Solidarność) both put relentless pressure on the conservative and pro-Catholic ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), to pass legislation to give employees the chance to rest and spend time with their families on Sundays.
The Polish law banning almost all trade on Sundays came into effect on March 1, 2018.
Let’s dive in and have a look at the finer details of the Sunday trading ban in Poland:
THE ORIGINS OF THE SUNDAY TRADING BAN IN POLAND
The Polish law banning almost all trade on Sundays came into effect on March 1 2018, though rumblings for change within the Law and Justice (PiS) party can be traced back to 2007.
A law prohibiting trade on state holidays came into force on October 26, 2007. The first day of the ban was on November 1, 2007 – All Saints’ Day.
Fast forward some nine years to September 2, 2016, when representatives of the Solidarność trade union, among a coalition of several other groups, submitted a citizens’ bill to parliament proposing a ban on Sunday trading by the majority of retail outlets. The groups had collected the required number of signatures in order for parliament to pay heed to the proposal.
In September 2017, the Solidarność trade union presented over 518,000 signatures for the ban on Sunday trading in the Polish Parliament.
Then came Friday, November 24, 2017 – Black Friday. Customers around the world, including Poland, were hunting for promotional sales. Irony has it that that very same day, the Polish parliament approved a bill that would almost entirely phase out Sunday trading by 2020.
The Polish parliament eventually passed the bill on January 10, 2018, with President, Andrzej Duda, signing the bill the same month on January 30.
The law officially came into force on March 1, 2018.
PHASE 1 – 2018 – TWO TRADING SUNDAYS A MONTH
On March 1, 2018, a law came into effect banning almost all trade on Sundays.
Throughout 2018, Polish retailers were forced to close on each Sunday of the month apart from the first and last. Trading was also allowed on the two Sundays preceding Christmas, meaning that there were a total of four trading Sundays in December that year.
PHASE 2 – 2019 – ONE TRADING SUNDAY A MONTH
In 2019, the Polish Government continued with its phasing out of Sunday trading, with the last Sunday of every month kept as a shopping day.
Similar to 2018, the Government decided to allow trading on the Sunday preceding Easter (14 April) and two Sundays before Christmas (December 15 and 22).
PHASE 3 – 2020 – SUNDAY SHOPPING ONLY SEVEN TIMES
As of January 1, 2020, a blanket ban on Sunday trading will come into operation.
As with 2018 and 2019, however, some Sundays will be exempt from the ban: the last two Sundays before Christmas, the one before Easter, as well as the last Sunday of January, April, June and August.
WHO SUPPORTS THE SUNDAY TRADING BAN IN POLAND?
As previously mentioned, the Solidarność trade union heaped the most pressure on PiS to pass legislation that would prohibit Sunday trading.
Alongside Solidarność, the Catholic church, to which over 90% of Polish people belong, inevitably had some influence on PiS and the Sunday trading ban. Indeed, leading Catholic bishops, such as Stanisław Gądecki, spoke out in favour of a prohibition on Sunday trading. Back in August 2017, Gądecki told Radio Poland: “Free Sundays are what all Catholics, non-Catholics and non-believers need,”.
When it came to citing reasons for supporting the Sunday trading ban, Polish clerics were keen to avoid the religious card, instead basing their argument on quality of life. Indeed, Archbishop of Katowice, Wiktor Skworc, said: “”Families don’t just need financial support, they need time for themselves,”.
WHO OPPOSES THE SUNDAY TRADING BAN IN POLAND?
First of all, we must consider the stance of Polish citizens. Surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017 tended to point to a population that was in favour of an outright ban or partial restrictions.
Throughout 2018 and this year, polls have tended to represent a population more in favour of lifting the ban. For instance, a poll conducted by Havas Media among 1,077 adults in January 2019 revealed that 46 percent of Poles desired a repeal of the ban. That is in comparison with 37 percent the previous year.
The All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) was vociferous in its opposition to the ban. Its main argument was that employees would be doomed to working longer hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Moreover, the Alliance claimed that the work would inevitably be harder because workers would have to attend to more customers on these two days.
It goes without saying that major retailers were against the ban. In August 2018, Tesco PLC admitted that it was forced to scale down its Polish operations as the ban decreased profitability.
In the ice cream sector, Małgorzata Grycan, co-owner of the Grycan network, came out and said that: “It will be a disaster for us and the food sector … Most of our cafes are located in shopping malls which will be closed on Sundays. We have a tradition in Poland to go out for ice cream or cake with the family on Sunday.”
Finally, the impact of the trading ban on small shops deserves a mention. The Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (ZPP) rallied over 500 owners of small shops to sign a petition for the abolition of the Act on trade restrictions on Sundays and certain holidays. The petition, which was submitted to the Chancellery of the Prime Minister on March 12, 2019, also demanded changes to the Labour Code, ensuring that every employee would have two free Sundays a month. You can read more about the petition here.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE SUNDAY TRADING BAN IN POLAND
There are over thirty exceptions to the ban. For instance, the ban is not applicable to shops at airports and railway stations, stores at gas stations, kiosks, restaurants, pharmacies, flower shops, bakeries, confectioners and post offices.
There is one interesting loophole connected with the trading ban. If the owner of a store is the sole worker on a Sunday, the right to trade exists. Apparently, family members are allowed to help out, providing that they work for free and that they are not employees of the store.
WHERE DO I STAND ON THE SUNDAY TRADING BAN IN POLAND?
Whilst spending a few weeks in Gdańsk in the summer of 2018, my wife and I made our way to Centrum Riviera, a large shopping centre in Gdynia.
At the time, I had no idea that a trading ban was in operation in Poland, so whilst standing at the foot of an escalator near the main entrance and gazing up at several evidently closed shops, I hastily put the closure of the shopping centre down to a one-off religious holiday. Later that day, Google informed me why Riveira was closed.
Fourteen months or so after my Riviera adventure, my wife and I planned to spend one bitterly cold October Sunday afternoon walking around the Gdańsk neighbourhood of Zaspa. I won’t go into the details of this little walking tour, as you can read more about it here.
Anyway, it was Sunday at its best. No rampant commercialism. No telephones and laptops. No fixed plans and maps. Just a good old walk. It felt like the old days.
By the good old days, I mean the early nineties when people would actually go out for walks and spend time with their loved ones – away from mass consumerism and addictive devices.
I am rather on the fence when it comes to an all-out ban on Sunday trading. I can see where the Catholic Church, Solidarność and PiS are all coming from. They want to revitalise the meaning of the word “family”.
Even though I tend to favour tradition over consumerism, I also understand the concerns of students, busy people and small business owners who might view Sunday as the only day on which they can do their shopping.
Some families might be able to adjust to the ban and spend their time in a more “quality” way, for example, in nature or going for a walk in the park. Sadly, I believe that the majority might see the Sunday trading ban as reasonable motivation to spend more time with their mobile phones. That’s the way of the world right now. It’s all about the cell phones.
All in all, I think that having one or two trading Sundays a month is a great compromise for everyone.