Greece may be hobbled by debt and record levels of unemployment, but shopkeepers are damned if they are going to work on the one day many say was given for rest. A law allowing Sunday shopping in 10 tourist regions – enacted last week after a year of ponderous debate – has met with stiff resistance from employees and shop owners alike.
The Greek Orthodox church has likened the step to a sin. The radical left main opposition party Syriza has called it an infringement of workers’ basic rights. “Its not that [citizens] lack the days and hours to shop, but money because of the barbaric policy of austerity and unemployment,” Syriza said.
On Sunday, the Federation of Greek Private Employees said the vast majority of shops had responded positively to its call for a 24-hour strike on what was meant to be the first day of liberalised Sunday shopping. “It was 95% successful,” said Thanos Vasilopoulos, the federation’s president. “And that is something that will make [things] very difficult for the sector of commerce.”
Protesters marched down Ermou, Athens’ main shopping drag, chanting “It’s wrong, it’s undemocratic, it’s bad for your health.”
Small shop owners – for years the lifeblood of the Greek economy – insist that liberalisation will only favour bigger stores at a time when few can afford to hire extra personnel. They say the new law will mean the end of family-run businesses already hard hit by higher utility bills and soaring taxes. After six straight years of recession – and with liquidity still at chronically low levels – many store staff have not been paid in months.
Under pressure from international creditors keeping the country afloat, the conservative-dominated coalition led by the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, says deregulation of trading hours is a necessity. Officials argue that the move will help create at least 300,000 jobs. Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the EU, at 27%.
“To have shops mandatorily closed on Sundays is a relic of old times when the economy used to be closed and protected and based on small, inefficient mom and pop shops,” said George Pagoulatos, professor of European politics and economy at Athens University. “Greece needs to open up. Tourists should not be meeting closed shop windows and, more than that, most Greeks would like shops to be open on Sundays.”