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Business

Germans to Get New Saturday Shopping Hours

The German government plans to rush a new bill through parliament to allow shops to remain open longer on Saturdays. Trade Unions are up in arms.

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Shop till you drop under the new law

Good news for ardent shoppers in Germany: as early as next month, a new law could be in place enabling shops to open until 8pm on Saturdays - four hours more than allowed under present rules.

Following proposals made by German economics minister Wolfgang Clement last week, the cabinet on Wednesday endorsed the draft law. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he hoped it would boost retail spending. "The discussion took about three minutes," he said. " No one in the cabinet had any difficulty supporting the draft. We hope that the reticence in retail spending in Germany will come to an end, he said."

Provided it is passed in parliament, the new law could go into effect as early as January. Under current German law on opening hours which was last reformed in 1956, retail businesses are only allowed to open until 4pm on Saturdays and there is a far-reaching ban on shops opening on Sundays and on public holidays.

Despite massive resistance from trade unions representing the service industry in Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is standing by his minister. “The chancellor has said he would welcome shops being able to open until 8pm instead of 4pm in the future,” a government spokesperson said.

Both the Greens and the pro-business liberal free democrats (FDP) are also for the longer opening hours. Green MP, Franziska Eichstädt-Bohlig proposed that the new law should go further, allowing shops in the center of towns and cities to open until 10pm every day, should they wish. Even the oppositon Christian Democrats along with their FDP coalition partners in Saxony Anhalt have already proposed that Saturday opening hours be extended to 6pm in the state.

‘Not in citizens’ interest’

But trade unions are furious about the new plans. Ver.di, the trade union which represents service industry workers in Germany maintained in a statement that longer opening hours wouldn’t aid economic growth or employment. The change would result in huge job cuts in the retail sector, as business struggle to reduce their costs in the face of increased competition, they said in the statement.

“It is absurd that the government says they want – on the one hand, to champion unemployment, but on the other hand, with a lengthening of shop opening hours will unleash a process that will destroy thousands of jobs,” one of the heads of Ver.di, Franziska Wiethold said.

Ver.di boss, Frank Bsirske added in a Reuters interview that he “rejected” the proposed changes, saying they were not “in citizens’ interest”. Ver.di has said if the government is really serious about the changes, then they will have to reckon with huge resistance from the Union sector.

But whether the new law will actually be successful remains questionable. Last time such an initiative was tried, two years ago, it failed to be passed by the Bundesrat – the upper house in the German parliamentary system.

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