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Sunday closings law killed; stores rush to open

The government reversed its position on the law after it became clear a referendum against it would be held. 

Parliament discussing repeal of the Sunday closings law on April 12. (Photo: MTI/Attila Kovács)

After Parliament voted April 12 to scrap the Sunday closings law, the majority of retailers in Hungary announced that they would open from May 8, although some had already opened for business on April 17.

The Hungarian government proposed legislation putting an end to a year-old law that required retailers to close on Sundays on April 11, and Parliament approved the legislation the following day, in an expedited procedure.

The government’s reversal on Sunday closings followed an April 6 court decision to allow the opposition Socialist party to seek signatures for a referendum that would have revoked the law. Polls showed wide support for the potential referendum, and government officials said they would prefer to eliminate the law rather than go through the distraction of a referendum.

Food retailers such as Penny Market and Tesco opened most of their stores on April 17, operating with staff who volunteered for the shift, as employers are legally bound to inform employees about changes in opening hours eight days prior to their shifts, according to reports. Tesco and Penny Market paid 200% of the regular wage to employees working on Sunday, April 17, according to online daily origo.hu. Tesco told the daily that customers were happy to have the extra shopping day.

German chain Aldi also opened its stores on April 17 and offered coupons to customers who spent more than HUF 5,000, according to reports. German retailer Lidl only opened two of its stores on April 17, according to the company’s website, but announced that all would open the following Sunday.

Retailer Spar announced that it would gradually open all its stores, and had already opened some outlets on April 17, while French chain Auchan opened the majority of its Hungarian stores.

Sports equipment retailer Hervis’ opened a handful of stores on April 17, and the chain’s remaining stores were to open the following Sunday. Sports equipment retailer Decathlon wrote on its website that it would open on May 8 for the first time since the legislation was put in place, and asked customers to vote on preferred opening hours through its website.

Electronics equipment retailer Media Markt said it would negotiate terms with employees so that it could provide optimal service during Sunday openings, and once negotiations are complete all its store could be opened as early as April 24.

D.I.Y. retailer Praktiker announced that it would open on May 8 for the first time this year, while furniture retailer IKEA announced that it would open all its stores from May 22 to enable its employees time to prepare for the revised hours of operation.

CBRE: Change good for business

Real Estate company CBRE Hungary said the repeal of the Sunday closings law was highly beneficial for the retail and real estate industries. The company has recorded strong retail sales growth and robust turnover improvement over the last 12 months in key Budapest schemes. However, major shopping centers did start running beyond their full capacity on Fridays and Saturdays as clear proof of the fact that Budapest’s retail infrastructure cannot cope with such a shift of demand from Sunday to other days of the week, according to CBRE. “Schemes with entertainment functions were affected most, as Sunday was traditionally the second strongest day in the week. This recent cancellation will help boost both turnover and footfall for the the rest of 2016 and will solve the operational difficulties caused by the Sunday closing,” said Zsolt Kákosy, head of asset services at CBRE Hungary.