Religious authorities have welcomed a move to restrict business on Sundays, but retailers warn hundreds of jobs may be lost.
By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb - 19/01/09
Both retailers and the public are upset with the decision to ban Sunday shopping. [Zeljana Grubisic]
Under a new regulation that went into effect this month, Croatian retailers must stay closed on Sundays. The move was in response to complaints from the Catholic Church, which warned that consumerism was taking over peoples' lives and undermining religion. Instead of attending Mass, the church warned, Croatian families were heading to the mall.
Indeed, Sunday had become a popular shopping day. The malls were open late to accommodate the crowds. All that has now come to an end until the summer season, when the government will relax enforcement of the rule.
According to media reports, no significant increase in church attendance has occurred so far. However, the regulation is already having an impact on the economy. With retailers struggling to compensate for lost revenue, potentially massive job cuts may be in store.
Immediately after the new regulation took effect, the Getro retail chain dismissed 200 employees. The toy merchant Magma, meanwhile, said it would let go more than 150.
Those numbers could rise dramatically. "If just 3% of the retail workforce is fired, then 10,000 would lose their jobs in Croatia," the national spokesperson for the Italian mall chain Emmezette was quoted as saying. Industry representatives estimate that Sundays comprise about one fifth of their overall business. Even if the government intends to continue with the ban, business associations argued, it should at least postpone it for the time being, given the current financial crisis affecting the globe. The argument was not enough to sway proponents of the new regulation.
As a result, Sunday shoppers are now limited to buying basic groceries at food stands, or patronising gas stations and small stores located in bus or rail terminals.
The national TV network, HTV, has been airing complaints from disgruntled consumers, who say they have to drive miles to pick up a loaf of bread. Newspapers now distribute pouches of coffee with their Sunday editions, hoping to attract more readers.