In a bid to boost the economy, Finland’s government has just fully liberalized shop trading hours that took effect from the start of 2016. Unions in the retail sector are however wary of a potential negative effect on job stability and are looking for a debate on how the country is moving towards an ‘open 24/7’ society.
Liberalization of trading hours for shops and retail outlets. Impetus for the government’s reform came from the fact that regulations had been confusing (different rules applied according to the type of merchandise, the services being offered, the location of the commercial outlet, the surface area, the hours of the day and the month in question), unfair and inefficient and had tilted competition in favor of online alternatives that are open 24/7.
As a result the government abolished the law that set out trading hours restrictions and completely liberalized opening hours for shops and retail outlets as of 01 January 2016.
Overall, since then, the large supermarket chains have quickly seized the new provisions and changed their opening hours with notably later closing times. In the capital some shops are opening 24 hours. However, most often, shops are trying out closing times between 22.00 and midnight. Owners of the supermarket chains intend to continue experimenting with hours and will assess the situation in the autumn.
As regards the staff reaction, first signs are that employees are happy to work in the evenings and during the night hours, probably due to the fact they get paid extra. Employers have committed to first proposing these evening and nighttime hours to the permanent staff and so in parallel with the legislative reform employers are entering into individual negotiations over working hours with their staff.
Union fears. The Services Federation, PAM, which covers employees in retailing, is worried about the new liberalization move. The organization opposes it and has criticized the government for refusing an open political debate on the issue and for being caught up in a liberalist ideology. Ann Selin, President of PAM, declared herself to be “particularly concerned over what we are becoming by following the international trend where employees in retailing find it impossible to plan their futures or even participate in regulating their own business (…). In both Germany and in the UK deregulation has led to a significant rise in the number of short-term jobs, which in turn has led to financial problems for these employees who are not receiving enough pay.” In Finland, the proportion of part time staff in the sector has risen by 30% since the partial liberalization reform of 2009. PAM is worried that this trend will accelerate.
In addition, the new reform may lead to security issues. The retail sector is prone to security problems with a high risk of violence. Later opening hours will add to the problem and PAM reproaches the government for not having adapted the legislation to cater for this risk, thus forcing the retail names themselves to independently take appropriate measures. PAM is calling for the government to adapt the law to take security issues into account. Finally, PAM underlines the necessity of reviewing how childcare and transportation services will operate in order to meet the new needs of employees.
Planet Labor, 19 January 2016, nº9459–www.planetlabor.com