As Poland votes to outlaw Sunday trading, Susan Gately wonders whether Ireland might follow suit
Late last month, Polish MPs approved a bill aimed at phasing out Sunday trading by 2020. The bill which has been passed in the lower house of Poland’s parliament, restricts Sunday shopping to the first and last Sunday of the month until the end of 2018, to the last Sunday of the month in 2019, and bans Sunday shopping in 2020 (except on the Sundays before major holidays). It comes at the instigation of the trade unions.
“It is interesting that the move to abolish Sunday trading in Poland has come from the trade unions,” according to Maria Steen from the pro-family think-tank The Iona Institute. “It is reported that the move is to allow workers to spend more time with their families.”
This is something that Pope Saint John Paul II recognised in his apostolic letter Dies Domini, said Mrs Steen, “the need not only for Christians to observe a day of worship and rest in accordance with their religious obligations, but also for members of civil society to have their need for the alternation between work and rest recognised by the State”.
Years ago, the company known as Des Kelly Carpets, (now Des Kelly Interiors), decided to shut its doors on Sundays. Since the death of the company’s founder, Des Kelly, in 2016, the practise has continued.
“We lost out at the start,” Managing Director Greg Kelly told The Irish Catholic. “We were afraid of losing trade but Dad convinced us. ‘We have loyal customers. What you loose on Sunday you would get back throughout the rest of the week,’ was his attitude.”
The principle became ingrained in his children, all eight of whom are involved in the business. “My Dad made it clear to the family never to open on Sundays. It is strictly a family day to be spent with your family. That’s what it’s all about, that and to go to church.”
There is no demand coming from the company employees to reverse the rule, he says. “Our employees are delighted. We never looked back.”
Dr Tom Healy, economist and director of the Nevin Economic Research institute (NERI) notes that very often people are more productive with shorter working hours. “Women who job share, for example, often get more into a half day than [another person gets into] 80% of a full time job. They get more done in four to five hours because they have to.” He points out that countries with lower working hours (like Germany and Sweden) often have a higher productivity. “In these countries there is a great emphasis on work/life balance and participation in community.”
However, Dr Healy sees little likelihood of Irish unions following their Polish counterparts. “A lot of people are struggling to make up hours and pay, and Sunday trading is seen as a way to do this. Also, students and part-time workers use Sunday work to make up their hours. The current debate is like a lost battle,” Dr Healy told The Irish Catholic.
Bishop of Limerick Dr Brendan Leahy agrees. “Is that door already bolted?” he asks. Poland is different to Ireland, he notes, with a huge population of people going to Mass on Sundays, and the “quiet Sunday rhythm” of yesteryear Ireland.
By contrast people in Ireland are in a “frenzy of activities” at weekends. “Weekends are becoming ‘mini-weeks’ with timetables, deadlines, projects to be achieved,” according to Dr Leahy. “I don’t lament it completely but there is also the need for the ‘Sabbath’. This biblical wisdom holds a deeper view of truth, that there is a need to break the cycle, to move to another type of being – rest, looking at nature, with time for prayers, hospitality, visiting people and recreation. This is all part of a holistic approach to life.”
From the wider societal point of view the idea of constant shopping and traffic affects community and family life, says Dr Tom Healy. “The more people continue shopping, the more we are generating an unsustainable pattern of living that is also detrimental to the environment. Shops being open 24/7 puts pressure on people to buy more,” which in turn leads to the problem of having additional things for disposal.
Maria Steen, herself the mother of four primary school children says families have a need for “rest and renewal”.
“Parents work hard to be able to afford a home and decent standard of living for themselves and their children; however the price is often that they spend less and less time together as a family.”
“Family rituals are important,” says Mary Johnston, specialist in Counselling at Accord the Church’s marriage advisory service. “Children benefit from rituals like dinners and going places together.” In the society in which we live, this may not be on a Sunday but, in any case “people need to make the best of the time they are together. It is not a question of quantity, it is all about quality.”