Covid-19

Belfast Sunday trading hours to be temporarily extended during Covid-19 emergency

In an unprecedented move, city council has made a delegated decision not to enforce the normal 1 to 6pm opening, and allow trading between 10am and 1pm

Belfast will see Sunday trading hours temporarily extended, to help healthcare workers during the Covid-19 emergency, despite warnings from the shopworker’s trade union.

City council has made a delegated decision not to enforce the normal 1 to 6pm opening, and allow trading between 10am and 1pm, in an unprecedented move.

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: We have agreed that council will not carry out enforcement action against large retail shops (in excess of 280sqm) should they choose to open or deliver on a Sunday from 10am onwards (until 6pm) except Easter Sunday in order to facilitate shopping for healthcare staff and vulnerable people. This arrangement is temporary and will be in place from Sunday April 5th until further notice.

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has urged Belfast City Council to proceed with caution. Paddy Lillis, General Secretary said: Failure to enforce the law, no matter how honourable the motive, is a big step for any public authority to take and we urge extreme caution. We share the desire to help healthcare workers, they deserve our full support and appreciation, so to provide additional shopping hours is an understandable response to the impact of the coronavirus emergency on their lives.

However, we want some absolute assurances that this is not a backdoor attempt to introduce extended Sunday trading, after the city council has four times failed to persuade councillors in the last three years. Usdaw members working in retail remain overwhelmingly opposed to longer Sunday trading, along with many of Belfast’s retailers, it said.

Earlier this year more than 90% of Usdaw’s shop workers in Belfast rejected any proposal to extend Sunday trading hours in the city, in a response to a City Council consultation.

Usdaw’s survey of 1,632 of their members in Belfast also found that over two-thirds said that they have already come under pressure to work on Sundays, while 61% said the main impact on them and their family from working Sunday was less time with family and friends.

The General Secretary added: Supermarket staff are working long hours, feeding the nation in difficult circumstances and under a great deal of pressure, they need a break. It isn’t too much to ask for a shorter day on Sundays. Deregulating trading hours will put more pressure on staff to work and that causes more problems with finding childcare. While, as essential workers, they are able to access school services during the week, there is no provision on Sundays.

I’m sure shopworkers will understand the motive for this decision, but they will be deeply concerned if retailers go beyond what is absolutely necessary. We need Belfast City Council to guarantee that this is a time-limited policy and that they will return to their duties to enforce the law as soon as possible. We also need to know that the city council will ensure that any additional trading hours are tightly limited and only available to essential workers and vulnerable people, she said.

The largest party in the council, Sinn Fein had previously supported the call not to extend trading hours. They have supported the temporary change.

City Hall Sinn Fein Group Leader Councillor Ciaran Beattie made a statement “calling on Belfast City Council to immediately cease enforcing restricted opening hours while this public health emergency continues and for stores to make specific arrangements for those struggling to access food and essentials.”

He added: I have received numerous correspondence from healthcare workers, pensioners and people with disabilities regarding limited access to food and essentials due to panic buying. We have seen many images on social media of healthcare workers, pensioners and the disabled straddling emptied aisles in supermarkets.

This is a time of much concern and uncertainty for many citizens – it is my firm view that we must do all that we can to ensure that no one goes hungry and without essentials, whether this be because they are working back-to-back shifts on the frontline or due to limited accessibility, he said.

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