Sunday shopping differs from country to country

The Swiss like to go Sunday shopping ahead of Christmas Keystone Archive

As Switzerland prepares to vote on relaxing Sunday trading restrictions, swissinfo examines how other countries observe the Sabbath.

This content was published on November 21, 2005 - 10:42

While the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Ireland take a more flexible line on the issue, Germany, Austria, Norway and Switzerland have tight restrictions.

Ahead of a nationwide vote on November 27, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) commissioned a Zurich research consultancy to examine the situation among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Its report, published in August, reveals that in recent years there has been a more or less significant extension of opening hours in most European countries – a view confirmed by trade unions.

According to the survey, this trend is explained by social changes, for example new family structures and the fact that women are more likely to be employed. It also highlighted the general move towards flexible or part-time working.

Sweden defies expectations

Regulations on Sunday trading in OECD countries differ considerably. There are no common directives – the same is true of the European Union.

According to national legislation, shops in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Hungary may stay open round the clock on Sundays. However, the rules are more restrictive at local or regional level in some of these countries.

Also among the more liberal states are Finland (Sunday trading allowed from 9am to 8pm), Britain (round the clock, but only for smaller shops), and Portugal (6am to midnight, but with restrictions depending on shop size).

Sweden, though, is the European leader on Sunday trading: since 1972, shops in this Scandinavian country have been permitted to stay open every day, including Sunday, from 5am to midnight (pay for working on Sunday can be twice the normal rate).

Sunday trading banned

In other countries, a ban on Sunday trading remains. As well as Switzerland, this is true of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Slovenia and Spain.

However, apart from Norway, all of these countries allow some exceptions. For example, Spain allows 18 working Sundays a year, the Netherlands 12, Italy eight and Germany four.

In common with Switzerland, Germany and Italy also allow retail outlets serving travellers in stations, airports and tourist areas to trade on Sundays.

Austria, for its part, makes an exception for shops with a floor area of less than 80 square metres in stations and airports, while France permits trading by food outlets and family businesses.

Opening hours in Switzerland are decided at cantonal or municipal level. However, federal labour legislation bans night work and working on Sundays.

In general, Swiss retail outlets may trade from 5 or 6am to 6.30pm or 8pm on weekdays, and they may stay open one evening a week until 9pm.

On Saturdays shops close between 4pm and 6pm; on Sundays and public holidays they generally stay shut. The exceptions are shops in tourist areas, motorway catering establishments and services for travellers in stations and airports.

swissinfo, Marzio Pescia

Key facts

Nowadays, 10% of Swiss workers (roughly 360,000 people) regularly work on Sundays.
Most of them are employed in the healthcare sector or work for public transport providers.
The results of a poll commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation in mid-November on whether shop opening hours in major train stations and airports should be liberalised in Switzerland were: 54% Yes; 40% No; 6% undecided.

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In brief

The Swiss parliament is proposing to allow shops in major railway stations and airports with sales of more than SFr20 million ($15.5 million) to be allowed to open on Sunday.

Trade unions, supported by church organisations and many retailers, have triggered a referendum against what they see as a further step towards a seven-day working week.

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