Boxing Day sales ‘exploit retail workers’ warn MPs and Church

16 December 2016

PA

Gath’ring winter bargains: early morning shoppers on Princes Street, Edinburgh, head for the sales on Boxing Day last year. There are no trading restrictions in Scotland

Gath’ring winter bargains: early morning shoppers on Princes Street, Edinburgh, head for the sales on Boxing Day last year. There are no trading...

COMMERCIALISM must not be allowed to trample over the needs of shop workers and their families dur­ing Christmas, a spokeswoman for the Church of England has said.

Commenting on a debate in par­lia­ment over banning shopping on Boxing Day, the spokeswoman said that it was important to not let the desire for Christmas profits take priority over time with family.

”There is a danger that commer­cialism . . . shouts so loudly that it overrides our caring about other things of greater value,” she said in a statement on Wednes­day.

”The needs of families — includ­ing shop workers — need to be bal­anced seriously against the desire to maximise profits.”

MPs spent Monday afternoon discussing an online petition calling for new laws to force shops to close on Boxing Day so that retail staff could enjoy it with their families. Because the petition gathered more than 100,000 signatures — reaching 141,000 by Wednesday — it triggered a debate in Parliament.

The Labour MP for Warrington North, Helen Jones, led the debate, arguing that poorly paid retail work­ers were being “exploited to fuel a national obsession — a debt-fuelled shopping binge that, in the end, does no one any real good”.

The shopworkers’ trade union, USDAW, held a consultation in which 92 per cent of respondents said they did not want to work on Boxing Day, but 78 per cent felt pressured to do so, Ms Jones said.

Politicians were quick to “jump in” on “spurious” stories about Christ­mas being downgraded or its Christian heritage diminished, Ms Jones argued. But the celebration had already been devalued by January sales that begin on Boxing Day, en­­cour­ag­ing shoppers to join the rush for a bargain and forcing retail staff to return to work im­­medi­ately after Christmas.

”If, as I have heard many people say, we want to preserve this coun­try’s Christian heritage, we should preserve it and give people some time off at Christmas,” she said.

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The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, who led the C of E’s cam­paign against relaxing Sunday trading restrictions earlier this year, has also lent his support to idea of banning Boxing Day shopping (News, 10 March).

In a statement, he said: “As we now have Black Friday, bank holiday deals, Hallowe’en deals, summer sales, winter sales and any other excuse for a sale, you’d think that there was scope to reduce the number of days when retail workers work when others are off. Boxing Day is an ideal candidate, as trad­itionally it is a day of doing things for others.”

But the power to make this happen lies in our own hands, he warned, not just with MPs. “If we don’t shop on Boxing Day the stores will give up opening. It might take more than 130,000 people to have any effect, but I’d like to see us vote with our feet.”

Research from the House of Commons Library showed that in 2014, 365,000 people worked in shops on Boxing Day, 12 per cent of the total employed in the sector. This figure amounted to 20 per cent of all those who worked on 26 December that year.

The Christmas Day Trading Act 2004 prohibits large shops from opening on Christmas Day itself, regardless of which day of the week it falls on, but there is no such pro­vision for Boxing Day.

MPs from across the political spectrum spoke to agree with Ms Jones and the online petitioners.

Responding for the Government, however, a junior business minister, Margot James, said that the Govern­ment would not legislate to ensure that retail workers could stay at home on Boxing Day.

”We believe that the current legislation provides the right balance between the interests of employers and workers,” she said.

from the House of Commons Library showed that in 2014, 365,000 people worked in shops on Boxing Day, 12 per cent of the total employed in the sector. This figure amounted to 20 per cent of all those who worked on 26 December that year.

The Christmas Day Trading Act 2004 prohibits large shops from opening on Christmas Day itself, regardless of which day of week it falls on, but there is no such provision for Boxing Day.

MPs from across the political spectrum spoke to agree with Ms Jones and the online petitioners, including Conservative Philip Hollobone, who suggested that one solution would be new legislation that made it unlawful for shops to compel employees to work on Boxing Day if they did not wish to.

Other MPs warned, however, that similar rules already in place to protect Sundays had not prevented unscrupulous employers pressurising staff into working on the Sabbath against their will.

Responding for the Government, the junior business minister Margot James expressed sympathy for those working in the “exhausting” retail sector during the Christmas period, but said that the Government would not legislate to ensure they could stay at home on Boxing Day.

“We do not believe that it is for the Government to tell businesses how to run their shops or how best to serve their customers,” she said. “We believe that the current legislation provides the right balance between the interests of employers and workers.”

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