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Retail continuous dispute over the closing time 25 years ago the Bundestag approved longer opening times of the shops. But to what extent do more flexible rules benefit retail – and what price do employees pay? The debate continues. From Jens Eberl.


retail trade Constant dispute about the closing time

Status: 21.06.2021 5:43 p.m.

25 years ago, the Bundestag approved longer shop opening times. But to what extent do more flexible rules benefit retail – and what price do employees pay? The debate continues.

From Jens Eberl, WDR

When Berliners want to go shopping in Bavaria, they might find themselves in front of closed doors every now and then. Berliners are used to having shops open around the clock. And Bavaria, on the other hand, has the shortest opening times in Germany. Since 2006, responsibility for regulating shop closing times lies with the federal states. The federal store closing law only applies in the federal states that have not passed their own store opening law; and that is the case in Bavaria. According to the Federal Store Opening Act, sales are allowed Monday to Saturday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Bakeries are allowed to open from 5.30 a.m. In Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony, the shops are allowed to open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., in the other federal states, 0 a.m. to midnight.

“The job can hardly be planned any more”

Have the more flexible opening times proven effective? The balance sheets are very different. Stefan Genth, chief executive of the retail trade association (HDE), says that liberalization was an important and right step. “Especially in the food retail sector, customers like to use the longer opening times to shop later in the evening after the working day and to take a look around.” The service union ver.di, on the other hand, speaks of a massive deterioration in working conditions. “Due to the long opening times, the employees are required to be much more flexible, the job can hardly be planned,” says Federal Board Member Stefanie Benefitberger. Compared to the past, there are many more part-time workers; the longer opening times have not led to the creation of full-time jobs. “There are simply fewer staff available for advice in the store, so that the opening times can be covered,” says Benefitberger. “Two thirds of those employed in retail are women. The expansion of part-time work and employment that is not subject to social security contributions are at their expense and mean that they are dependent on basic security in old age.”


Debate about opening times Shop on Sundays until Christmas?

DIW, the city federation and the trade association HDE are calling for more flexible shop opening times, ver.di warns.

Jobs for millions of people

The industry association contradicts: Liberalization has increased the need for labor in the retail sector. “Particularly in the food trade, additional jobs were created in order to be able to cover the evening and night hours,” said HDE General Manager Genth. Overall, the retail trade in Germany today offers more than three million people a job.

The union also sees a connection between the dying inner cities and the long opening times. There was a big cutthroat competition, so ver.di board member Benefitberger. “Four corporations make around 80 percent of sales in foodstuffs, three corporations make almost 90 percent of sales in drugstore articles.” Not every company was able to go along, especially smaller shops should have closed that way.


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Sunday opening as an economic aid?

In the current discussion about shop opening times, the main focus is currently on Sunday. The trade association, the association of towns and municipalities and Marcel Fratzscher, head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), have signed up for a general Sunday opening until Christmas – as an economic aid for the industry, which has been hard hit by Corona.

“In many other areas of the economy, opening on Sundays is a matter of course. In restaurants and pubs it is part of everyday life that the doors are also wide open on Sundays. The same is true of theaters, cinemas or museums worked on Sundays, “said industry representative Genth. “Only in the retail sector, as a rule, everything has to be closed on Sundays. That is no longer in keeping with the times.”


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Resistance in court too

But the trade union ver.di is massively resisting further liberalization, which is why it repeatedly goes to court. The advance of the HDE is a “general attack” on the trade workers, their families, and the Basic Law. “The HDE thinks too short-sightedly when it hopes to liven up the city centers and shops with shopping Sundays,” said union Benefitberger. “Because just because it is open longer, people cannot spend more money. Sunday sales only move sales from working days to Sunday.”

At the moment, shops generally have to close on Sundays and public holidays. There are exceptions, for example, for bakeries, flower shops, newsagents, petrol stations and shops in train stations and airports