An attempt to persuade Belfast City Council to support the scrapping of Northern Ireland’s Sunday trading laws has been unsuccessful.
Sinn Fein councillor Conor Maskey had called upon the Council to support total deregulation in response to a Stormont consultation.
But the Council rejected adopting an official line, instead saying each party should submit their own views to Stormont.
Many workers are opposed to increased Sunday trading, fearing a negative impact on family life.
The shopworkers union Usdaw carried out a survey of their members in Northern Ireland and discovered that a massive 73% were opposed to Sunday trading hours being extended, with ‘concern for family life’ being one of the main reasons cited.
Usdaw’s General Secretary, John Hannett, said: “Shopworkers have an increasingly difficult time trying to balance work and family life and for many of our members, Sundays are the only day of the week they get any quality time to spend with their families.
“Any extension of Sunday opening hours is just going to make the situation worse.”
The Christian Institute has submitted a response to the consultation, rejecting any changes to the Sunday trading laws.
Other interested parties have also expressed their opposition, including the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA).
Roger Pollen, from the FSB, said last week that its 8,000 members feel any relaxation in the law “would put immense pressure on many small shops already open for over 60 hours a week in a bid to compete with multiple retailers”.
“Keeping the Sunday trading laws as they are”, he said, “will go some way to protecting independent retailing and ensuring that this important sector of the Northern Ireland economy is protected.”
And NIIRTA’s Chief Executive, Glyn Roberts, has echoed the FSB’s concerns.
He said the current laws were “adequate for small and large retailers to trade and offer consumers ample time to shop”.
“NIIRTA has concerns that small traders such as newsagents and convenience stores could be adversely affected if the UK Multiples are allowed to open all day on Sunday”, he added.
And Mr Roberts went on to say that additional hours on a Sunday would bring no benefit even to larger traders.
“Many larger retailers have told us that all day Sunday trading would actually cost them more in terms of staffing, while essentially making the same profits as they would under the current system when they trade from 1-6pm.”
In The Christian Institute’s response to the consultation, it cites protection of family life, local communities and local businesses, and respect for freedom of religion as the key reasons for its opposition.
The Institute’s response states: “Given that there are already five hours in which to shop on Sundays, to privilege the minority who want even more time to shop over the many who want to enjoy their legitimate religious liberties is incompatible with a tolerant society.”
Northern Ireland Officer for The Christian Institute Callum Webster added: “Any further extension of Sunday trading will put even greater pressure on Christians in the retail sector to work on Sunday.”