24 – 30 January 2001

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Sunday shopping

Jesmond Saliba highlights the Sunday shopping controversy and points out the distinction between the Bay Street and Sunday issues

By Jesmond Saliba

The controversy of the week is related to Sunday shopping. Should shops be open or should they be closed, should the consumer be allowed to shop and his hunger for commodities be satisfied?
Although this issue hit the headlines due to Bay Street, and although there is a relation between the two things, Bay Street's issue pertains to the definition of what the precincts of a hotel are.
Is Bay Street a hotel with shops in its precincts? Is Bay Street a shopping and leisure complex, which also has a hotel in its precincts? This is to be decided by the court.
The government, through Edwin Vassallo, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry for Economic Services, claimed that the issue was escalated in a way that balloons will soon blow up in the face of those who inflated them.
However, Mr Vassallo stressed that the government does not want Sundays to become like Mondays, meaning that the government would never make Sunday shopping legal.
It is true that the present legislation is quite old and maybe outdated where, for instance, in some aspects it allows things to be sold while shops are closed. Mr Vassallo denied that there is room for mediation, as there is no real fight, even if it appears to be a very hotly debated issue.
In June, the GRTU had argued that the law as it stands offers all the possibilities for the community to be served with what is really essential, even on a Sunday, and to provide all the necessary services in the areas mostly frequented by tourists.
The GRTU argued that the pressure to bring a change in the law was orchestrated by business interests, which clearly sought to camouflage their economic designs behind shallow pleas for consumer rights. The GRTU appreciates that a government led by a party which strongly adheres to the importance of social considerations as a priority above mere commercial aspects has accepted the GRTU's genuine stand to safeguard the retailer's right to rest on Sunday.
The same accusations are heard again today. Some consumers would like to be able to do their shopping all year round. However, not everyone would like to work on Sundays. Not everyone would like to be disturbed on Sundays. These considerations have to be given the importance due to them.
Chris Grech, Marketing Director of Bay Street, is claiming that things are being done according to how the original permits were given. So, if the shops were opening in a legal manner, why is it that the police ordered their closure? Why did the police ask for a change in address only for the shops and not for the leisure outlets as well? The situation is very ambiguous.
The government is preparing a new draft legislation on trading licences and we will have to wait till it's on Parliament's agenda. Until then the debate will continue. Who should really decide? Is it the government, the people, the consumers, the owners, the unions or shopkeepers?
Whoever it will be must carefully observe all the current issues at hand in order to find a realistic compromise - something which, till today, has seemed impossible.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt