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Parliament gives go-ahead to Sunday shopping

Retail wokers will be paid an extra 50 per cent for Sundays

(Keystone)

The Swiss parliament has voted to allow limited Sunday shopping, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

The cantonal authorities will be able to authorise the general opening of shops for up to four Sundays per year, putting an end to the special status of Sundays.

The Senate followed the House of Representatives in approving changes to labour law, which will make it possible for retail employees to work on Sunday.

Most of Switzerland's 26 cantons have already eased restrictions to some extent, with the exception of the French-speaking region.

The new amendment fixes a 50 per cent pay supplement for retail work on Sunday, and shops have to secure the consent of their employees. These conditions will apply across Switzerland. No canton will be obliged to introduce Sunday shopping.

In Switzerland Sunday has traditionally been a day of rest, with activities such car washing and lawn mowing banned by communal regulations. That mindset now appears to be changing.

Numerous exceptions to the Sunday shopping ban have been introduced, mainly in tourist areas, at service stations, airports and railway stations.

Referendum

During the debate in the Senate on Wednesday, centre-left Social Democrat Ernst Leuenberger warned that this new liberalisation of the labour law would affect retail workers on low pay who are rarely protected by a collective work contract.

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard said the new law took into account the concerns of opponents.

It is not clear whether trade unions will try to challenge the amendment to another nationwide vote.

The country's main churches have said that Sundays should be protected from any further impact.

"Those who work on Sundays miss out on family life and a balance between work and rest," a joint statement from the Catholic and Protestant churches said.

In 2005 the Swiss narrowly approved an amendment to the labour law aimed at allowing Sunday trading at the country's main railway stations and airports.

Just over 50 per cent of voters - predominantly in seven urban regions - approved the legislation, with 49.4 per cent voting against.

The following month, parliament turned down a complete liberalisation of shop opening on Sundays by a large majority.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Work-free Sundays were considered a major historical achievement by Swiss unions. Sunday working was banned in principle in factories as part of labour legislation in 1877.

The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions has previously taken a strong line on the issue, arguing that even partial liberalisation would be a slippery slope towards a seven-day working week.

Following the Senate vote, cantons will now be free to authorise Sunday opening four times per year. The Senate voted by 23 to 9 to accept the amendment to labour legislation.

It was argued that opening shops on Sundays in the run up to Christmas was responding to consumers needs.

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