The Government has found itself in the midst of a political scrap over proposals to devolve the power to extend Sunday trading hours to local authorities. The SNP has indicated that it will oppose the measures, which are intended to help retailers in the face of ever-increasing competition from online outlets.
Currently, shop workers have the right to opt out of working in a Sunday on 3 months' notice. The proposals would reduce that to 1 month's notice for workers in larger shops and create a new right to opt out of working longer than their normal Sunday hours. They would also guarantee minimum compensation of 2 weeks' pay where an employer fails to notify a worker of their opt-out rights.
The SNP's stated objection is that premiums paid to some Scottish workers for working on a Sunday are not specifically protected by the legislation. (Scotland does not have a specific prohibition on Sunday trading and so some Scottish workers have had the opportunity to negotiate pay premiums for working on Sundays.) However, those workers would still presumably be able to rely on any contractual terms relating to the pay premiums.
Retailers are divided as to whether a relaxation of Sunday trading requirements will help or hinder them. Although the inconvenience of shorter Sunday trading hours may drive some customers online, there is also a concern that these proposals will primarily benefit larger retailers who can afford the additional costs of paying staff to work on a Sunday and further disadvantage small retailers.
Whatever the outcome of this particular political tug-of-war, it seems likely that, with internet shopping becoming the default option for many consumers, high street retailers should be prepared for tough market conditions.
The government faces possible defeat on plans that could extend Sunday trading hours in England and Wales after the SNP said it would vote against them.