Valerie Vaz MP is Labour MP for Walsall South
The Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympics Games) Act (the Act) was debated in the Commons on 30th April 2012 using the fast track procedure following its introduction in the House of Lords. It received Royal Assent on 1st May 2012.
I spoke against the proposed legislation as in my view the Act is bad for working people, family life, and there is no evidence to suggest it is good for business. In addition the shortened time for debate made MPs more wary of the Government’s intentions behind the Act given that it has been known for some time when London 2012 will take place. The effect of the Act is to suspend the current rules on Sunday trading for large stores in England and Wales. For 8 consecutive Sundays from 22 July 2012, the Sunday before the opening ceremony until 9 September 2012 the Sunday after the closing ceremony for the Paralympics (the Olympic Period), the provisions of the Sunday Trading Act 1994 will be relaxed.
Those who work in retail, the Association of Convenience Stores, (ASC) and members of the union USDAW who have many members in the retail trade, opposed the provisions of the Act. There were also opposing voices to the provisions in both Houses. A poll of 10,000 workers by the union Usdaw found that 77% of respondents said that they were opposed to the Government’s plans. Estimates from the ASC show that the total cost to the 4,000 convenience stores for the 8 Sundays could reach £480 million. They said removing Sunday Trading legislation would cost £1,500 per convenience store per Sunday.
One of the reasons given by the Government for this legislation is that Britain needs to be “open for Business”. Included in the Government’s Impact Assessment of the Bill were figures from The Centre for Retail Research. These figures suggested that potential benefits amounted to £189.8 million to retailers over the Olympic Period, but simultaneously conceded that they did not understand to what extent increases in sales might be displaced from other retailing such as smaller stores.
Moreover, figures from a Study in 2006, by ‘Indepen’ (for the DTI) ‘The Economic costs and benefits of easing Sunday shopping restrictions on large stores in England and Wales’, suggest an increased profit from £13 to £88 million. However there is an admission in the Impact Assessment that these figures are not reliable for the purposes of the Olympic Period. Without evidence to suggest that this Act will have a positive impact on trade, the raison d’etre and its speedy passage through both Houses was hard to justify.
Many speakers in both Houses raised concerns that the Act could be the start of a further relaxation of the Sunday Trading legislation once the Games were over. Under current legislation, Part IV of the Employment Rights Act 1996, those workers who do not wish to work on Sundays can opt out by giving their employer 3 months notice that they do not wish to work on Sundays. The Act changes this to 2 months- the deadline was 21 May 2012 for those workers who did not want to work during the Olympic period.
Whilst the protected workers have a right not to be dismissed, selected for redundancy or subjected to any detriment for refusing to work on Sunday, this relies on workers coming forward to show they have not been unfairly treated. Usdaw claim that, already, over a third of their stakeholders are under pressure to work on Sundays when they do not wish to.
And a constituent has told me that bank holidays are being taken away from retail staff. She had experienced it herself; having taken a day off earlier in the week, there was a requirement that this should be compensated by losing her bank holiday allowance. Other employees were expected to work on bank holidays irrespective of whether they were contracted to work on that day.
Whilst the Act consists of only 3 clauses, these provisions affect women disproportionately as over 60% of the retail work force is female. The Act will affect families and family life in the Olympic Period.
In 2006 there was a review of the Sunday trading legislation. A broad range of people and organisations were consulted. Nearly 1000 responses were received which were opposed to any relaxation of the legislation. More recently a GfK/NOP poll conducted in 2010 showed 89% of people were against further liberalisation of Sunday trading.
Clause 3- which repeals the Act – should come into effect after 9 September 2012. Increased sales in a few stores near the Olympic site should not be taken as a measure of the success of the Act.