Fabian Demicoli

Keep Sunday Special

 Over 10 years ago GRTU launched a campaign on the theme ‘Keep Sunday Special'. GRTU as the national organization in Malta representing shop owners and service providers, most of them being family run business, tried to convey the message to the Maltese community in general that, unless absolutely necessary, Sunday should be recognized as Family Day.

 

GRTU does not look at the issue from a religious point of view even though many in the past accused the Director General of trying to impose the law of Moses on the Maltese. Many GRTU members, however, often expressed their general concern that they already work a 6 day week as most shops and service providers are obliged to do and open on a 6 day week in many areas (tourist areas) for most of the year. They also work extended hours and they complain that they could hardly have a day with their family as complication causes them to grab every hour available.

Sunday for Malta is the special Family day not by design of GRTU but as a result of our Christian heritage. It could have been Friday or Saturday if the religion was different. Families where both parents work and families with siblings that work have no real family day if all of them are on leave/holiday on different days of the week. What family would it be if they are never home on the same day? When the Keep Sunday Special Campaign was intensive GRTU had also joined a European Action Group on this issue and the Group successfully lobbied for a resolution in the European Parliament in favour of Keeping Sunday Special.

Many seem to have forgotten what had happened then, GRTU and it's Director General, Vince Farrugia where vilified and shamelessly attacked in popular programmes like Xarabank, on numerous radio programmes and in the media, of the right and the left, with hardly any support for GRTU's courageous  stand. Even the Trade Unions and those who ought to know better turned against GRTU arguing consumer rights to shop on Sundays. Faced with this kind of opposition GRTU in agreement with the then Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Small Business, the Hon Edwin Vassallo, decided on a step approach effectively giving in to the strong opposition. GRTU called for numerous meetings of retailers and service providers so that we identified who where these firms that wanted to open on a Sunday and those who rejected the whole concept. Changes where introduced in the shops Opening Hours Act so that practically we now have a situation where those who don't want to open on a Sunday are not forced to open and most of those who want to open are allowed to open. But the emphasis is on the word ‘most'. There are still a number of alley shopping outlets that have invested millions of Euros who have restrictive operating hours and are being forced to pay €700 per shop to open on Sunday and Public Holidays. They also have great problems when Public Holidays fall during mid-week and shopping alleys and the bigger stores wants to open to serve consumers.

The situation now therefore is that the law is discriminating between businesses: those who can open because they happen to be located in tourist areas and others that cannot because they are located elsewhere and between those who sell one range of products against others who sell a range of products. There is gross discrimination as some open irrespective of the prohibition while the law-abiding stay closed and the law has become a farce. Many still believe that in Malta we have a ‘nanny' state. The ‘nanny' state that under the threat of law and fines holds licences from operating. GRTU recognizes that times have changed and that the battle to keep ‘Sunday Special' has been effectively lost. GRTU says this begrudgingly, but shop-owners must face the realities of our times. After the floodgates where opened under the pressure of all unti-GRTU crusaders it is now, practically impossible for Government to bring back new Sunday restrictions. It is indeed unfair that one business licence is restrictive and another is not. On the open market the value of a business highly depends on a type of licence a business carries. The lesser the restrictions under the terms of licence and at law the higher the value of the licence and the higher the value of the business. GRTU's attitude today is similar to that of EuroCommerce, the Pan-European Federation of national retailers` organisations to which GRTU belongs.

GRTU in agreement with Government experimented in one particular geographical area with full liberalisation of Sunday Trading. Gozo today has no restrictions whatsoever. What happened in Gozo is a lesson in practical politics: those who want to open on a Sunday open, while those who want to Keep Sunday Special do so and stay closed. There was no earthquake in Gozo when this reform was introduced. The situation is now that what is available in Gozo is not available in Malta. The truth, however, is that no one in Malta is forced to work on a Sunday except pharmacies on a Sunday roster. Many other shops are, however, prohibited from opening. Many again are raising this issue of Sunday restrictions and campaigning for prohibition. Unfortunately Parliamentary Secretary Dr. Jason Azzopardi has fallen in their trap, believing that he can somehow bring back Sunday restrictive practices. GRTU argues that now it is too late to turn the clock back. We trust that Dr Jason Azzopardi, the highly practical and honest politician that he is, will recognise that this is one can of worms worth keeping covered. GRTU today believes that the campaign should be geared towards educating business owners to enjoy Sunday with their families rather then be pressured to open. GRTU today strives to educate members that money and profit is not an end in itself but a means to better quality of life to yourself and your family, to your employees and their family to enjoy their Sunday. But not under the force of law but as an individual choice.

GRTU insists that now it's a case of educating people and not making in positions by law.

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