“If only everywhere could be closed Boxing Day! Some things are needed over the festive period; retail isn’t one of them,” reads e-petition 168524, which calls for the closure of retail stores on Boxing Day.
After gaining over 100,000 signatures, this e-petition was debated in the House of Commons this week, with labour MP Helen Jones leading the motion. Another, more forcefully worded, e-petition (which accused retailers of ramming Boxing Day sales "down your throat") attracted fewer signatures but prompted the Government's response that it is not for central Government to tell businesses how to run their shops or best serve their customers. And that it would not propose to ban shops from opening on Boxing Day.
MPs highlighted the plight of warehouse workers in the debate; that in our digital age of online shopping, for every checkout click there is a corresponding worker, who fetches the item off a warehouse shelf. This brings to light the precious little time some workers are able to spend with their families over Christmas. Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns emphasised the other side of the story: that high street retailers have struggled over the past decade. Stopping trade on one of the busiest days of the year may be the difference between survival and insolvency for some companies.
MPs also toyed with the idea of amending the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004, which currently prohibits large shops from opening on Christmas Day for serving retail customers. This prompted us to recap where the law currently stands on Sunday working – another area of heated debate.
Proposals for changes to Sunday working in shops have been bounced around Westminster over the past few years (see our 2014 blog post). In February 2016, the Government published a response to the consultation on devolving Sunday trading rules to local areas. But the idea of letting local authorities extend Sunday trading hours was dropped in March this year, before the Enterprise Bill became the Enterprise Act 2016. Schedule 5 of the 2016 Act is therefore waiting for a commencement order before enforcing:
Workers being required to give only 1 month's notice to large shops (with a floor exceeding 280 square metres) that they object to working on Sundays. Currently they must give 3 months' notice to opt out.
Shop workers having a new right to opt out of working more than their "normal" Sunday working hours. This would be on 1 month's notice for large shops (3 months' notice for small shops).
Reducing notice periods for opting out of Sunday working where employers fail to notify shop workers properly about how they should opt-out – plus guaranteed minimum awards (between 2 and 4 weeks' pay) to shop workers as compensation for such failures.
The status quo thus remains for both Sunday, and festive, working this year. Retailers will still have months to plan ahead if any shop workers opt out of Sunday working. Whatever your organisation's stance on working over Boxing Day and on Sundays, some festive contingency planning (especially around rotas and shift premia) will not go amiss while we wait to find out the Government's next steps.
If you would like advice on any of these issues, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our employment team, whether in London, Birmingham or Manchester.