The government will once again attempt to loosen Sunday trading protections, it has emerged.
The government’s intention came to light on Tuesday, during the second reading of the Enterprise Bill in the House of Commons.
The plans to devolve Sunday trading, which have been widely criticised, were originally to be included in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. After strong opposition by MPs across the political spectrum, however, the proposals were dropped.
But last month it was revealed that ministers were to push ahead with the plans again, believing they could "win round many of those who've expressed concern".
Although the government has not yet published the results of a public consultation on loosening Sunday protections, the plans will now be added to the Enterprise Bill.
Plans would 'help high streets'
Business Secretary Sajid Javid insisted that these changes, which would allow large stores to open for longer than the current six hours on a Sunday, would help to boost economic growth.
"Extending Sunday trading hours has the potential to help businesses and high streets across the UK better compete as our shopping habits change," he said in a government press release.
Critics, such as campaign group Keep Sunday Special, which has worked with Christian Concern in opposing past attempts to loosen protections, have argued that if there were to be any economic benefits, they would partly stem from the removal of Sunday premiums offered to workers.
Attempting policy change 'by the back door'
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, said that adding the plans to the Enterprise Bill at this late stage is disingenuous.
"In November, the government recognised that the Sunday trading plans would be defeated. Yet now, despite the widespread opposition from MPs, it is trying to relax protections by the back door," she said.
"It is no accident that the response to the consultation, to which many replied expressing their objections, was not published ahead of Tuesday’s debate."
Pressure on retail workers
According to the government press release, the plans will offer "greater freedoms" to shop workers in England, Scotland and Wales.
Many have objected that retail workers would be forced to work on Sundays, instead of spending time with their families.
A survey conducted by the shop-workers’ union USDAW last year showed that nine in 10 retail workers oppose the plans.
This week's press release states that workers will now be able to "'opt-out' of working Sundays if they choose to, for example because they object on religious grounds or for family reasons."
"Shop workers will now be able to give just 1 month’s notice to large shops that they no longer want to work Sundays, down from the previous 3 months, and will have a new right to opt-out of working additional hours. The government will also strengthen the duty on employers to notify employees of their rights about working on Sundays."
Andrea Williams warned that the claims of 'freedom' for shop workers are an "attempt to sugar-coat the impact of these proposals.
"Many workers will still feel obliged to work on Sundays, as they may still face pressure from employers," she added.
The developments were also criticised by the Jubilee Centre, which is led by Dr Michael Schluter. Dr Schluter helped to set up the "Keep Sunday Special" campaign in 1985, to defend Sunday as a day of shared rest.
Njoki Mahiani, a spokeswoman for the Jubilee Centre, said:
"Tuesday’s revelation – that the Enterprise Bill will be amended to permit Sunday trading hours despite opposition from small businesses, trade unions and faith groups, is disappointing to say the least. This is not simply because it clearly undermines the government’s own Family Test for policy but also because these changes arrive on the back of a public consultation which rejected the proposals at every turn.
"We commend the courage of several Conservative MPs who have dared to challenge their party on its reckless pursuit of this economically-dubious change and pray that their voices are heard along with those of millions of families whose expectations of shared time off will be further compromised."
When the consultation was originally put out last year, a Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales spokesperson said,
“It would be a mistake to further deregulate the laws on Sunday Trading. The different atmosphere of Sunday which remains, despite partial deregulation, is good for society, families and communities. Our freedoms as consumers need to be balanced by the rights of workers, and family stability is enhanced if as many families as possible have a common day off.
True prosperity is enhanced through the quality of relationships we foster, as well as by economic exchange.”