Hungarian lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill that will ban most shopping on Sundays, casting the move as insurance that families will have more time together.
But in a country struggling with 10.5% unemployment and modest income levels even a quarter of a century after the end of communist rule, the bill limiting retail activity is likely to come in for some popular resentment if, as retailers warn, it results in layoffs and a drop in tax revenue.
The law reminiscent of postwar Western European restrictions against shopping on the Christian Sabbath is the political brainchild of Hungary's Christian Democratic People's Party, the junior partner in coalition with Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz conservatives. Like its German, Austrian, Dutch and other predecessors, the Hungarian shopping ban is riddled with exceptions.
Pharmacies, tobacconists, farmers markets and stores on military bases are permitted to operate on Sundays. Bakeries can also open between 5 a.m. and noon.
Retail shops at airports, train stations, gas stations and hospitals also are allowed to operate as late as 10 p.m. Sundays.
Shops with less than 2,150 square feet of retail space aren't covered by the law, provided that the Sunday work force consists of those with at least a 20% stake in the business or are immediate family members of the owners.
The four Sundays preceding Christmas are exempt from the shopping ban, and all retailers will be allowed to open their doors once a year on a Sunday of their choosing.
The National Assn. of Entrepreneurs and Employers, which opposed the legislation, warned this month that its passage would lead to about 20,000 layoffs. It vowed to organize a national referendum on the shopping ban, citing an Economics Ministry report that about 20% of Hungarians do the bulk of their weekly shopping Sunday.
About 37% of Hungary's 10 million population is Roman Catholic, according to the CIA World Factbook. An additional 16% ascribe to other Christian religions, while 18% say they are atheists and 27% fail to specify any faith.
There were no economic impact studies conducted by the government before the bill was submitted, the Hungarian business news site Portfolio reported in its account of the legislation, which concluded that "economic rationale for the move is scarce."
The shopping curbs, which take effect March 15, will mostly affect big-box retailers and major European grocery chains such as Spar, Aldi, Tesco and Lidl.
In a description of the legislation posted on the parliamentary website, the sponsoring lawmakers promoted it as insurance that shopping won't "shorten the time that families spend together."
Economy Minister Mihaly Varga had urged rejection of the bill, appealing instead for employers to work out mutually agreeable compensation arrangements for those willing to work Sundays.
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