Budapest, April 11 (MTI) – The government has proposed that parliament should revoke the law regulating Sunday working restrictions, cabinet chief Antal Rogán said on Monday, adding that the issue had proved socially divisive over the past year.
Rogán told a news conference that working and payment conditions prior to last year’s law, enacted on March 14, 2015, would be restored. This includes rules governing supplementary weekend pay.
He said that parliament would consider the motion as soon as Tuesday, and the new legislation revoking the law could be enforced as soon as the weekend.
The opposition Socialist Party recently succeeded in getting its referendum question approved by the authorities seeking to restore Sunday shopping.
Rogán insisted the government had met its original goal of boosting retail sales and employment over the past year. But he said “economic goals” were not paramount. “Six years ago we won a mandate to govern together with the people,” he said.
The cabinet concluded it would be “irresponsible” to spend billions on a referendum on this particular issue when there were more burning questions such as the one on European Union migration quotas. A referendum would have cost around 5 billion forints (EUR 16m). This and related costs could be saved by lifting the law, he added.
He said he would ask the groups of ruling Fidesz and the allied ruling Christian Democrats to support the imitative at their group meetings on Monday.
Economy Minister Mihály Varga told the press conference that they have conducted an assessment of the Sunday shopping restrictions and this would be published later on. Retail sales, far from being hampered, actually grew by 5.6 percent last year, he said. Employment in the retail sector was up by 3,300 at the end of 2015 compared with a year earlier, and even now there are 6,600 unfilled jobs in the sector, Varga said.
Shops exempted from the Sunday closure rule currently include ones under 200sqm that are family-run, as well as pharmacies, petrol stations, airport shops, retailers at bus and train stations, and sellers at markets or fairs. The Sunday restrictions do not apply to tourism, culture or catering businesses, to commercial accommodation, baths or businesses in areas designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Last week, Hungary’s supreme court approved the Socialists’ referendum question, overturning an earlier decision by the National Election Committee (NVB). The ruling brought an end to a drawn-out dispute over an incident that occurred on Feb. 23 when the Socialist lawmaker making the party’s referendum submission, István Nyakó, was held up by “thugs” just long enough for a rival question to be handed in. The timing of the submissions is significant because Hungary’s current referendum law states that while a question is being examined by a court, it is not possible to submit another question on the same subject.
Nyakó said today that the government decision to revoke the law on Sunday shopping restrictions was “a small victory for the opposition Socialists and a big one for the electorate”. For the second time, the ruling parties have been forced to “back off”, Nyakó told MTI, referring to demonstrations that resulted in the withdrawal of plans to introduce an internet tax in the past. In the light of the government decision, the referendum initiative has become unnecessary, he said.
At the same time, a criminal act still occurred at the election office on Feb. 23, he said. As long as it is not known who planned it and organised it, “democracy is in a state of emergency in the country”.
The opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) urged parliament to vote as soon as possible on revoking Sunday shopping restrictions. Spokesman Zsolt Gréczy said the government announcement could also be considered DK’s success because the party had submitted the first referendum initiative on the subject.
The opposition Együtt party said the decision reflects the government’s “fright” over the fact that Hungarian people disfavour the Sunday restriction. If Fidesz revoked laws people disliked it would have to abandon the construction of sports stadiums and other vanity projects, party lawmaker Szabolcs Szabó told a press conference.
The opposition PM party would propose to lawmakers that after revoking the Sunday work ban and going back to the status quo ante, the rule which doubles pay for Sunday work introduced since should be kept, spokesman Bence Tordai said.