Wal-Mart’s UK supermarket chain Asda will this week demand that Sunday opening hours in England and Wales be extended, allowing the it to create 7,500 new jobs, according to the Observer newspaper.
The company said that its experience in Scotland, where it can keep shops open longer than the six hours currently allowed elsewhere on the mainland, proves that it would need to employ more staff.
The government is considering changing the law to allow shops bigger than 3,000 square feet (288 sq meters) to open perhaps for an extra two hours. The issue is to be decided in 2006.
Under legislation introduced in 1994 large shops can stay open for six hours, usually from 10am to 4pm, on a Sunday, while small shops covering less than 3,000 sq ft can open when they like.
But the move to longer Sunday opening hours will be resisted by an alliance of unions, faith groups and convenience stores, which will argue that any such reforms will lead to worse terms and conditions for shop workers, as well as be harmful to family life, and allow the giant supermarkets to eat into the markets of smaller retailers.
John Hannett, general secretary of the shop workers’ union Usdaw, said that independent polling from his union, the Keep Sunday Special lobby and the Association of Convenience Stores, showed that over 60% of the public were opposed to extending Sunday opening hours.
“We are opposed to the deregulation of Sunday trading,” he said “We don’t see a strong business case. We don’t think it would generate more business. It’s interesting that Asda say this would lead to more jobs but its competitors don’t agree and the government is undertaking a cost-benefit analysis on this issue.”
Reforming Sunday trading hours was one of the few issues that Margaret Thatcher was defeated on in a parliamentary vote when she was prime minister, the paper said.