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Catalonia defends its retail opening hours law after Spanish Government’s appeal

The Catalan Parliament delivered a petition to the Constitutional Court in order to defend the Catalan law on opening hours for shops, which is more restrictive than the Spanish one. Catalonia is trying to preserve its small urban shops model, where most of the shops are run by families. The Spanish Government passed a reform in 2012 forcing Catalonia to allow longer opening hours. In 2013, the Catalan Executive promoted a new bill to invalidate the Spanish one. The new law was approved with 80% support in the Catalan Parliament in January 2014, but the Spanish Government appealed against it a few months later, and the Constitutional Court suspended the Catalan text in late 2014. 

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30 January 2015 12:43 AM

by

Jordi Julià

Barcelona (ACN).-  The Catalan Parliament has recently delivered a petition to the Constitutional Court to defend the Catalan law on opening hours, which is more restrictive than the Spanish one. The Catalan Government has always used its competences in local commerce to preserve its differentiated retail model, based on small urban shops, mostly run by families. However, in 2012 the Spanish Government passed a reform forcing the Catalan Government to allow longer opening hours, arguing it would foster economic activity. Catalonia considered its self-rule powers in this area were being invaded and its own commercial model attacked. In early 2013, the Catalan Government promoted a new bill to invalidate the Spanish one, which was finally approved in January 2014 with an 80% support in the Catalan Parliament. However, the Spanish Government appealed against it a few months later and, in late 2014, the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended the Catalan law until a verdict is handed down. 


The plea presented by the Catalan Parliament to the Court defends the constitutionality of the Catalan law and requests an immediate end to the suspension, without the need to wait five months, the time which the law can be automatically suspended without a further decision from the Court. This law had great support when it was approved in January 2014 by the same parliament: 100 votes in favour and 19 votes against. In December the President of the house, Núria de Gispert, received a declaration by shopkeepers, trade unions and institutions defending the Catalan law and Catalonia’s own commercial model.

This model is based on small or medium-sized shops located within urban areas, rather than huge shopping centres. This commercial model has urbanistically shaped all towns and cities, and is considered deeply rooted in the Catalan way of life, ensuring commercial diversity and citizen proximity. Furthermore, most of the shops are run by families, which tend to hire a small number of employees. Therefore, the model sustains thousands of jobs and families.

For this reason, the Catalan Government has always legislated in favour of these small-sized shops, using the wide and exclusive competences that Catalonia has in local trading and retail matters since the approval in 1979 of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, a sort of Constitutional Act. According to the current Catalan legislation, shops could open only 8 Sundays a year and 72 hours a week at most. The exception was shops smaller than 150 m2 whose main product was food; and those located in tourist areas. In addition, shopping centres had to be located within urban areas.

However, the Spanish Government, in the hands of the conservative People’s Party (PP), published a decree in 2012 forcing more liberal restrictions according to which all shops had to be able to open 10 Sundays a year and 90 hours a week. It also doubled the area of the shops without limits to 300 m2 and to those not only selling food, and allowed shopping centres to be located anywhere. These measures emulated the legislation of the Madrid Region, the most liberal of Spain, also governed by PP.

As a response to that decree, the Catalan Government, in the hands of the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU – often voted by shopkeepers – promoted new decrees and laws replacing the Spanish ones. The Spanish Executive appealed to the Constitutional Court, which suspended the Catalan law. This led to an ambiguous situation and some large-sized shops in Catalonia have started to follow the Spanish legislation.

The Spanish Government and large stores state that more opening hours will result in the creation of more jobs and sales growth, along with more facilities for customers. They also argue that opening on Sundays will capture sales from tourists, especially those from cruises.

However, the Catalan Government and small shopkeepers think that people will simply buy the same things at different times; that current contracts will be extended to cover this extra time and no new staff will be employed, increasing running costs for small employers; and that more working hours will make it much more difficult to reconcile professional and family life. Small shopkeepers consider that it will be harmful for them because they cannot afford to contract more people in order to open on Sundays. As they are shop assistants too, either they won’t be able to open or will have to work seven days a week to operate under the same conditions as larger shops. 

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  • Shops in Barcelona's city centre (by J. Pérez)

  • Shops in Barcelona's city centre (by J. Pérez)