Poland Bans Sunday Trading: Law and Justice Remembers the Sabbath

With the American market in the midst of the consumerist joys of the holiday season, other countries have paused for a moment of reflection on domestic consumer spending habits. In Poland, the conservative Law and Justice government has taken a decidedly regulatory approach.

On Sunday, November 24, the government approved a law to ban Sunday trading—the sale of merchandise on Sundays—within the next three years. If the law passes parliament, trading will be banned on two Sundays per month in 2018, increasing to three in 2019, and phased out altogether by 2020. The ban, however, does accommodate several exceptions. It does not pertain to gas stations, train stations, seaports, pharmacies, flower shops, and souvenir shops, and allowances will be made for the holidays. There will be seven trade Sundays permitted during the year, including two leading up to Christmas and one preceding Easter.

While this ban may sound strange to American ears, Poland would actually join eight other EU countries with regulatory legislation pertaining to Sunday shopping habits. Recently, increased  demographic and work-related pressures have led many Europeans, and Poles specifically, to welcome Sunday trade bans as a way to improve quality of life.

For the Ban

In Poland, the trading ban has been a long time coming. It was preceded by a holiday trade ban in 2007, then formally proposed by Solidarnosc Trade Union in 2016, finally circulating across parliament and coming to fruition in a gradual plan with the potential to positively impact various aspects of Polish life.

For one, the government argues the Sunday ban will generate more free time for families, which in conjunction with the 500 zloty stipend for mothers—around $140—may contribute to a greater emphasis on family and the much needed population growth that comes with it. With a fertility rate of 1.32, anticipated labor shortages, and potential economic stagnation,Poland is in significant need of an increased birth rate, and it is through initiatives like the trading ban that the government hopes to cultivate Polish society.  

Fertility aside, the ban is aligned with Polish values. For one, it appeals to the Christian understanding of Sunday as a day of rest, and in a country where 96% of people identify as Catholic and over 57% actively engage with the religion, this falls in line with traditional concepts of work-life balance.  Furthermore, pursuant to values like equality and respect, the ban may serve to lift stigma towards low-income workers by allowing laborers and retail workers greater individual freedom and a reprieve from an overwhelming work week.

An Economic Question

These societal benefits aside, the ban’s economic impact is its primary point of contention.  Opponents of the ban claim that it will have detrimental impacts on businesses; however,, it is expected that the ban will have little net economic benefit, while substantially improving quality of life for Polish citizens.

First, the ban provides openings for smaller businesses and local enterprises by removing much of the large retail competition on Sundays, consistent with a broader Polish economic strategy of revitalizing domestic businesses.  Furthermore, with greater leisure time available, restaurants, bakeries and entertainment venues may see a spike in clientele and an increase in profits—Sunday losses experienced by other types of businesses are expected to be covered by increased purchasing during weekdays. The ban is also predicted to have no significant negative impact on the labor market.

Expectations of a net neutral effect are supported by historic implementation of the ban in other countries. In Hungary, for example, a Sunday trade ban implemented in 2015 left the economy largely undisturbed. Popular spending habits shifted to other days of the week, retail sales did not waver, and there were no major layoffs. Despite the absence of detrimental economic impact, the ban was lifted this year in conjunction with a decline in popular support. Hungary aside, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and several other European countries implement Sunday trade bans to varying degrees, compensating for any side effects of regulation with other incentives and extended weekday business hours.

Of course, the Sunday trade ban is not without its flaws. It will likely disadvantage Polish businesses operating on the Polish-German border, generate a dent in tourism revenues which largely occur during the weekend, punish larger companies, lead to some layoffs, and paint a less favorable picture for foreign investment. Regulating Sunday trade will thus be a challenge, requiring careful mediation and gradual implementation on the part of the government. However, this ban holds both a cultural mandate and broad societal impact, giving it great potential to improve the Polish quality of life and rejuvenate family life.

Image Credit: Radosław Czarnecki/Wikimedia Commons

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