This Sunday will not be a day of rest for the Swiss – they will be going to the polls to vote on the divisive issue of Sunday trading.This content was published on November 23, 2005 - 08:18
swissinfo went shopping for opinions on the forthcoming vote which, if accepted, will make Sunday trading at railway stations and airports the rule rather than the exception.
It is Sunday morning in early November and the sound of Bach, performed by Bern's cantata choir, has attracted a sizeable crowd of elderly people to the Heiliggeist church.
Across the road, a larger and more diverse group of people is entering the city's shopping temple: the railway station.
Since the Swiss Federal Railways renovated its biggest stations, greatly expanding the amount of space available to shops, the newly dubbed "RailCity" centres have become popular among shoppers as well as travellers.
By nine in the morning there are already queues of people with trolleys full of groceries at the checkouts of a Migros supermarket.
Two customers are being attended to at the station's hairdressing salon, getting a trim to look their Sunday best.
Several passers-by stop to admire the creative autumn arrangements in the window of a florist, but few seem interested in the latest shoe collection outside a fashion boutique.
"I believe shops should be open on Sundays because there is a demand from people who normally can't find the time during the week," says a young hospital worker waiting for a train.
"I only shop on a Sunday when I happen to be at the station," says a woman outside the florist. "It's a good opportunity to pick up some groceries, but clothing boutiques wouldn't need to be open if all people were like me."
"I'm against shops being open on Sundays," says a middle-aged man outside Migros, before deciding that it is "okay to buy groceries, but not clothes".
"If Sunday shopping is approved, it will open the floodgates and shops will be open around the clock," he adds.
Few shop owners in support of Sunday shopping dispute that their ultimate aim is to be able to decide on their opening hours themselves.
"We should do away with legislation restricting opening hours in order to meet the needs of the consumer," says Peter Klein, co-owner and manager of the chain of Läckerli-Huus sweetshops.
The Basel-based company has three shops in Basel and six other shops around the country.
Since October 1, Klein has kept the Basel branches open later than usual on Fridays and Saturdays, supporting a call by the city's main shop association to extend hours to make the inner city more attractive.
"Our RailCity branch does a lot of business right up to 9pm," says Klein, "and we don't have any problem finding staff who like working on Sundays."
Roswitha Ledergerber, manager of the Globus department store in Basel, says: "Shops across the Rhine in Germany extended their opening hours and we've lost customers because of that.
"There is not much demand on Friday evenings, but people still have to get used to the idea that we are open."
However, a woman who works in one of Basel's shops that has extended its hours says she has been forced to take longer breaks during her shift so as to be able to start when the shop opens and work until it closes.
"I don't have any life left," she despairs.
"It's scandalous and unfair to sales staff," says a man strolling through the old town with his family. "They work long enough hours as is. I'm going to vote no, because no one should be forced to work on a Sunday."
"It's good and bad," says another woman employed by a local shop. "I now have to work later two nights a week. But that means I get to start later, which I like."
"The pie is not getting any bigger," says Hans Heid, owner of Candle Art, a small chain of gift shops in Basel, Lugano and the resort of Interlaken. "We kept our shop open longer a few years ago on a trial basis and again for a few weeks last month but our sales did not increase.
"I favour a no vote as far as Sunday shopping is concerned," he says, but adds that shops in tourist resorts should continue to be exempt from any Sunday trading restrictions.
"I think Sunday shopping is a good idea," says a British expatriate. "I missed that when I moved here. What else can you do on a Sunday?"
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Bern and Basel
Sunday work in Switzerland was banned in principle under 19th-century labour legislation.
Shopping hours are decided at the cantonal or local level and several regions have lifted restrictions or have granted special Sunday licences.
About 360,000 people (10% of the workforce) in Switzerland work on Sundays mainly in hospitals, transport and tourism.
Trade unions, churches, consumer groups and shopkeepers have forced a nationwide vote on November 27.
The aim is to fight parliament's decision to relax Sunday trading restrictions at major railway stations and airports which have annual sales of more than SFr20 million ($15.3 million).
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