New bid made to expand shopping hours

A battle is heating up again over attempts by politicians to pry open Switzerland’s restrictive shopping laws.

The lower house of parliament on Wednesday approved legislation that would allow gas station stores to remain open 24 hours a day on major highways and routes heavily used by travellers.

The approval follows earlier backing of the changes by the senate, which also approved a motion in favour of Sunday shopping and for longer minimum hours during weekdays and Saturdays.

But left-wing parties and unions are already planning to challenge any such changes in a referendum.

Among the ongoing concerns is the right of employees to work reasonable hours and to be entitled to a day off on Sundays.

Other issues include extra deliveries and traffic generated by the longer operating store hours.

“The unions will not be alone in the referendum fight,” Louis Schelbert, a member of the Green party from Lucerne, told the media.

A parliamentary commission is looking into a motion from the senate to allow shops across the country to open from 6am to 8 pm from Monday to Friday, and from 6 am until 7pm on Saturday.

The cantons would be able to adopt more liberal hours, under the proposal, spearheaded by Filippo Lombardi, a Christian Democrat from Ticino.

Fabio Abate, a Liberal senator from Ticino, meanwhile, wants to relax federal laws currently limiting Sunday shopping to tourist areas, main train stations and airports.

Geneva MP Christian Lüscher, sponsor of the motion for 24-hour gas station stores, said this would allow them to offer products and services meeting the needs of travellers at all times.

Ruedi Noser, a Liberal party member from Zurich, said the change would also address an anomaly in the operations of gas stations.

Current laws require them to close retail operations from 1 to 5 am from Mondays to Saturdays, as well as on Sundays.

However, staff can still sell fuel and food products from cafeterias.

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Syngenta rejects claims of pesticide bee deaths

Basel-based agrichemical giant Syngenta on Friday urged Brussels to withdraw plans to slap a two-year ban on so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, saying blaming them for bee deaths was wrongheaded.

Syngenta rejects claims of pesticide bee deaths
Syngenta maintains study blaming pesticide for bee deaths is flawed. Photo: Jon Sullivan

Syngenta said that a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report on the risks posed to bees was "fundamentally flawed".

The European Commission — the Brussels-based executive of the 27-nation European Union — aims to rein in the use of such pesticides in a bid to prevent a disastrous collapse in population of an insect considered vital to the food chain.
"The European Commission has been using this flawed EFSA report to justify proposed restrictions on this technology," Syngenta's chief operating officer, John Atkin, said in a statement.

Last month, the EFSA said that neonicotinoid insecticides used in maize, rapeseed, sunflower and cotton cultivation posed "disturbing" risks to with bees and other pollinating insects hugely important for food production, especially of fruit.
EFSA said the insecticides attack the central nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death.
The chemicals in doubt — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — are present in insecticides produced by Syngenta and German counterpart Bayer.
According to Syngenta, however, further review has shown that the EFSA based its assessment on "unrealistic and excessive" seed planting rates, between two and four times higher than would be used in modern agriculture.
Syngenta — the top player on the global agrichemical market — said that using normal sowing rates in the study would have told a different story.
It claimed that the EFSA would have concluded that the risk to bees is extremely low and that in reality neonicotinoid technology is safe.
Earlier this month, Atkin told AFP that Syngenta would do all it could to defend the reputation of its products.