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Retail workers deserve support over Sundays

by
07 August 2015

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From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC

Sir, — I read with great interest the report on the proposals to extend Sunday trading (News, 10 July). Very few people, however, seem to know all the facts about this.

To begin with, large stores can already open for six hours on Sundays. Almost all opt to open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Moreover, many Sunday workers already work behind the scenes before and/or after Sunday opening times. Thus the chance of those workers’ having quality time with their families is already destroyed.

Saturdays, Bank Holidays, and evenings are also working days for many retail employees. Weekend work is usually compulsory. In fact, employees in the big stores work more at weekends than on weekdays.

Most serious of all, most of these workers work on Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays, and evenings at, or only just above, the National Minimum Wage for weekday daytime work. Many think they are paid overtime rates like other workers, but they are not.

The Government says “There is a demand for it,” but there is a similar demand for seven-day, 12-hour opening/operation by government and council offices, doctors and dentists, vehicle repairs, courts, and so on. So why single out retailers?

We may grumble that retail staff do not know about the products that they sell, but I understand that the staff turnover is the highest of any trade, profession, and industry in the EC. Sunday and all-hours trading has wrecked the whole career structure of retailing. How many young people now choose retailing or retail management as a full-time professional career?

Those who want longer Sunday-trading hours are either the fat-cat retail bosses (who probably never work weekends themselves) and other workers who will robustly defend their own two- or three-day break every week of the year with a week-plus at Christmas, when most retail employees get just one day.

When we hear about suggestions to change the working conditions of teachers, council workers, or whoever, the trade unions and their comments are given a very high profile. Why is this rarely the case with retail employees?

Retail employees, adult care workers, and catering staff are subject to conditions that employees in any other trade or profession would never tolerate. Many cannot survive without state benefits. So let us Christians join with other people of good will and strive to get better and not worse employment conditions for them; for they are at the very bottom of the pile.

GEOFFREY SQUIRE
Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR

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