Keeping shops open for longer on a Sunday would put pressure on employees and interfere with family life and church life, a Christian Institute spokesman told BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show.
“One individual’s choice to shop for longer hours on a Sunday takes away the freedom of others who have to work”, said Callum Webster of The Christian Institute.
Sunday trading hours for large shops in Northern Ireland currently operate from 1pm until 6pm. But Webster said despite there being a legal opt-out, staff still feel under pressure to work.
One of Britain’s largest trade unions said just eleven per cent of its members admitted to having the confidence to use a legal opt-out.
The survey carried out by USDAW also found that 62 per cent had been pressured to work on Sundays.
“Those who request an opt-out, whilst in the law they are supposed to have that, in practice these people are going to be frightened of taking that up for fear of losing their job, for fear of damaging relations with their boss or with colleagues, for fear of harming their promotion prospects”, Webster warned.
He said: “It’s not a choice for a shop worker who’s put under pressure by their employer to work, it’s not a choice for a shop worker who is a Christian and who can’t get out to church and their liberty of conscience is taken away and is undermined, and their freedom to follow their faith and their freedom of conscience is taken away”.
In another USDAW survey 73 per cent of members in Northern Ireland stated that they opposed longer Sunday trading hours and one of the main reasons cited was concern for their family life.
Webster said: “An individual might choose only to shop for an hour or two but Sunday shop workers are already in Northern Ireland spending five hours away plus travel time from their home, from their family.”
“We need one day of rest where we can be with our family”, he stated.
The radio debate was triggered by a push in England and Wales to relax the law on Sunday trading.
Major retailers including Asda, Morrisons and Selfridges are backing a parliamentary campaign pressing for shops to stay open for longer on a Sunday.
In 2012 Morrisons and Asda called for an increase in Sunday trading hours at Christmas – but Tesco resisted the move saying the day is still “special” for many.
A spokeswoman for Tesco commented: “Customers already have a large and growing choice about when and how they shop”.
She also said that for many of its shoppers Sunday “remains a special day”.