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Apr 12, 2016

Government proposes to repeal law on Sunday shop closures

“Analyses are important, and opinions are important, but how people perceive this is after all the most important,” Minister Antal Rogán said in explaining the decision.

At his press conference the minister said that the law limiting the Sunday opening hours of certain businesses has proved to be a divisive issue over the past year. 

Minister Rogan said that the law achieved the original objectives of the governing parties. That is, not a single worker has been forced to work on Sunday in retail in the past one year, the retail sector and employment have expanded, and some of the sales have been redirected from multinational corporations to medium-sized businesses. However, “we should not confine ourselves to the evaluation of pure economic objectives as we were given a mandate six years ago to govern together with the people," he said.

“Analyses are important, and opinions are important, but how people perceive this is after all the most important,” and “in the past one year we have failed to convince them that this measure is successful also from their point of view,” the minister said. He specifically highlighted that the governing parties have failed to convince women because many of them stressed that the prohibition of work on Sunday makes the everyday lives of families more difficult. 

The minister further pointed out: they were also required to consider whether it is worth holding a referendum on this question, spending billions on its organisation, and fighting political battles over the topic. “At a time when, in the government’s view, there is another question on the table which is far more important from the respect of the country’s future: the issue of forced settlement which Brussels has forcibly placed on the agenda once again only recently,” he said. 

In consideration of all these criteria, the cabinet came to the conclusion that it would be irresponsible to hold a referendum on the issue, he said.

Minister Rogán told the press that the state of affairs that prevailed March 14, 2015, before the entry into force of the law last year, may be restored both with respect to the performance of work and the regulation of wage supplements. 

The head of the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister said that Parliament may vote as early as Tuesday on the proposal, and as a result it may take effect already this weekend. 

The minister said that he will request the parliamentary group of the government party to support the proposal at the parliamentary group meeting on Monday. He remarked: regarding the opposition parties, he will be curious to see whether they were indeed interested in the content of the legislation and the attainment of their specific goal, or all they wanted was “a political hoo-ha”. This will clearly transpire from the conduct of the opposition in the next two days and their votes, he added. 

The press conference was also attended by Minister of National Economy Mihály Varga, who rendered an account of the development of retail sales in the past one year. 

According to his report, there were no fundamental changes in the structure of sales. Retail sales increased by 5.6 per cent last year, which means that the law on the prohibition of work on Sunday did not result in a decline, he said, adding that the vast majority of shops increased their sales.

The concerns regarding employment were likewise left unjustified, Mr. Varga continued. In actual fact, the number of people in employment in retail increased by 1.8 per cent last year. He remarked that there continue to remain unfilled jobs in the sector. 

The minister further told the press that, according to estimates, there was a rearrangement among the different store types: the structure of trade shifted from larger stores towards smaller ones. 

In answer to a question, Mr. Rogán said that the referendum would have cost 4 to 5 billion HUF, in addition to the costs of political debates and campaign costs. Consequently, the revocation of the law has resulted in substantial savings. 

The minister was also asked about the settlement quotas. As he said, based on his experience, the opposition is not taking this issue seriously, despite the fact that developments in the past one year have made clear: this is one of the most important issues in Europe. There are one and a half million immigrants in the territory of the EU today who crossed the borders illegally, he remarked. 

The distribution of migrants is continuously on the political agenda in the EU, and both Brussels proposals indicate that forced settlement is the ultimate goal, Mr Rogán highlighted. He took the view: the related consultations have accelerated, and it appears that they would like to word the EU legislation before the Hungarian referendum.

In his view, the referendum on this question has become particularly important, and the Government will seek to ensure that nothing should stand in the way of this debate. He indicated: he would be pleased if the opposition, too, supported this cause because he is convinced that Brussels can be stopped “if the vast majority of Hungary’s citizens say no to forced settlement loud and clear”.