A senior trade union official has asked for “absolute assurance” that softening Sunday trading regulations in Belfast due to COVID-19 is not “a backdoor attempt” to extend opening hours in the long term.
Belfast City Council said its decision would remain in place “until further notice”.
Councillors had previously rejected proposals to extend Sunday trading hours four times since 2017 – most recently just one month ago.
A council spokesperson said it would not “carry out enforcement action” against shops greater that 280m2 if they extended their Sunday opening hours “to facilitate shopping for healthcare staff and vulnerable people”.
The shopworkers union Usdaw accepted the move, which came into effect last Sunday, but warned against using the pandemic as an excuse for long-term changes.
we want some absolute assurance that this is not a backdoor attempt to introduce extended Sunday trading
Its General Secretary Paddy Lillis said healthcare workers deserved “our full support and appreciation” and taking action to help them was “understandable”.
He added: “However, we want some absolute assurance that this is not a backdoor attempt to introduce extended Sunday trading after the city council has four times failed to persuade councillors in the last three years.”
A survey for Usdaw in January found 92 per cent of its NI members opposed extending Sunday trading hours. More than two-thirds said they had already been pressured to work on a Sunday.
Belfast city councillors have repeatedly rejected attempts to liberalise Sunday trading in recent years.
In 2018 a proposal to designate Belfast as a ‘holiday resort’ was rejected by the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee by 16 votes to four.
Similar proposals were rejected in early March – a decision welcomed by Retail NI and Usdaw.