The Supreme Court has issued three rulings overturning acquittals by lower courts of businesses that had used various tricks to circumvent Poland’s Sunday trading ban. In all three cases, the justice minister had asked the Supreme Court to overturn the rulings.
The Sunday trading ban was introduced by the current government in 2018 following a campaign in favour of it by the Solidarity trade union and Catholic church.
But some businesses tried to exploit loopholes that allowed businesses to stay open if they offered cultural, sporting or tourist services. A number of them, for example, opened “reading clubs” or offered sports equipment rental, arguing that this allowed them to open on Sundays.
Supermarkets have rebranded themselves as book clubs and, in one case, a bus station to evade Poland’s Sunday trading ban.
The new tricks come after the government closed a loophole that had allowed stores to remain open by offering postal services https://t.co/JpHsXLLUx9
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 7, 2022
However, the Supreme Court has now ruled that, to benefit from the exemption to the ban, cultural, sporting or tourism activities must be the main occupation of the establishment and other forms of commercial activity must be secondary.
The first of the verdicts was handed down on 13 September and concerned the display in alcohol shops of racks with sports equipment for rental. The second judgment, delivered on 20 September, also concerned the use of the same exception.
The third judgment was handed down on 18 October and concerned the opening of an in-store library in a shop owned by a large franchise chain. The chain has not been named, although it has previously been reported such a “readers’ club” was opened in a shop that is part of the Intermarché network.
A loophole that allowed large retail chains to evade Poland’s Sunday trading ban by offering postal services will close in one week after the government moved to tighten the law https://t.co/Ls0pCrEDfB
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 24, 2022
The rulings were welcomed by the State Labour Inspectorate (PIP), which had requested that justice minister Zgbniew Ziobro, in his other guise as prosecutor general, appeal against lower-court decisions to acquit the businesses in question.
“I am satisfied with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Chief Labour Inspector Katarzyna Łażewska-Hrycko. “From the beginning, PIP has stood by the position that the interpretation adopted by labour inspectors and our office is correct.”
“I also hope that, in the future, traders wishing to circumvent the Sunday trading ban will consider this issue in the context of the judgment just handed down,” she added.
Since Poland’s Sunday trading ban was introduced, 6,500 shops have closed – most of them the small and local businesses that were meant to benefit from the change
The growth of e-commerce may also hit them hard, writes Mateusz Perowicz of @KlubJagiellonsk https://t.co/xIpDpLXXpk
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 13, 2021
The PiS government has regularly criticised businesses that have tried to circumvent the trade ban. Last year, a minister met with representatives of the retail industry to remind them that Sunday is “time for prayer and family”, not shopping.
However, the future of the Sunday trading ban is now uncertain after PiS lost its parliamentary majority at elections earlier this month. It appears almost certain that a new government formed by opposition parties will now take power.
The main group within that coalition will be the Civic Coalition (KO), which during the election campaign pledged to end the Sunday trading ban if it comes to power.
KO instead wants to provide every worker with the guarantee of two free weekends per month and double pay for working on their days off. One of its prospective coalition partners, Third Way (Trzecia Droga), wants to compensate workers for working on Sundays with either higher pay or an extra day off.
Sunday „is for family and prayer, not for spending time in the store”, says Poland’s labour minister, who wants to meet with retailers to remind them about complying with the ban on Sunday trading https://t.co/1pxpjexkNT
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 25, 2022
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Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.