The Federal Council decided on Wednesday to continue its efforts to liberalise retail opening hours across the country. The proposed law allows retailers to open from at least 6.00 to 20.00 during the week and from 06: 00 to 19.00 on Saturdays. This contentious decision is taken in the face of direct opposition from the political left, trade unions and the cantons and is certain to spark a referendum
While the extension may not appear dramatic to the uninitiated – a mere couple of hours a day – opponents fear that the proposals are the thin edge of the wedge and that radical change including Sunday opening and even 24 hour opening will follow..
The idea of liberalising retail opening hours is extremely unpopular with unions and the political left. The issue has been battled over for years with both sides to the argument claiming their position to be in the public good. That the cantons are also against the measures proposed by Bern may say more about their desire to resists encroachment of their sovereignty than actual resistance to the measures themselves. In a sop to the cantons, the proposal permits them to introduce longer opening hours if they wish. The Federal Council’s proposals will have little or no effect in ten of the German speaking cantons as their current regulations are at least as liberal.
Bern’s proposal has the support of trade and tourism bodies, consumer rights groups and the political right. The left and trade unions reject the proposals out of hand. They claim that longer working hours will result in a deterioration of working conditions for employees and have already promised to demand a referendum.
The issue raises an interesting conundrum. Family cohesion is cited by many on the right as a core strength of Swiss society. Extended working hours will impact more on women as they make up the majority of retail workers. This will affect family life. Children of families in the poorest quartile of Swiss society will be deprived of time and the influence of their mothers who will have to stay at work for longer or work unconventional hours. The unwelcome phenomena of latchkey kids with their associated social problems is likely to become more widespread throughout the country. The right wing must make up its mind. Are longer opening hours and higher profits worth further fragmentation of Swiss social values? Maybe they need just take a quick look at the problems caused or aggravated by extended opening hours in other countries.