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Polish lawmakers approve Sunday shopping curbs

WARSAW, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Polish lawmakers approved legislation on Friday to gradually force all but the smallest shops to close on most Sundays from March 2018 in a move backed by the powerful Catholic church.

While Sunday shopping remains limited in some of the biggest economies of western Europe, it bloomed in the east over the last two decades as people embraced malls as a sign of economic prosperity following decades of shortages under communism.

The bill, approved mainly by lawmakers of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, will compel all but very small shops to close on two Sundays a month.

From 2019, the new legislation, if signed into law by PiS ally President Andrzej Duda, will allow shopping malls to stay open just one Sunday per month. From 2020, shopping malls will be allowed to operate only 7 Sundays per year.

Lawmakers approved the curbs on Sunday shopping on so-called Black Friday, a day when many international retailers offer promotional sales to attract customers.

There are no restrictions envisaged in the Polish bill for online shopping on Sunday. Gas stations, restaurants, cafes and cinemas would also be allowed to stay open all Sundays.

PiS, the socially conservative governing party, has argued that it needs to curb shopping on Sunday to allow retail sector employees to spend more time with their families.

A survey by state-run pollster CBOS showed that 58 percent of Poles supported curbs on Sunday shopping. A poll by private pollster Kantar TNS showed 76 percent backed a solution that would guarantee two free Sundays per month for retail sector employees without any curbs on shopping.

Poland's Bishops Conference welcomed parliament's move. "Let's not disregard God in public life and let's not assume we have the right to organise national life as if God didn't exist," it said in a statement. (Reporting by Marcin Goettig; editing by Mark Heinrich)