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What is Switzerland's plan to allow some shops to open on Sundays?

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
What is Switzerland's plan to allow some shops to open on Sundays?
Swiss government mulls Sunday shop openings in some cities. Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels.

The debate over shops opening on a Sunday in Switzerland has been rumbling on for years. But now the Federal Council has spoken out in favour of changing the rules – albeit not everywhere.

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It's one of the quirks that many foreigners who come to live in Switzerland struggle with: on Sunday, it is hard to buy things. 

Yes, shops at petrol and train stations, as well as ski resorts, are allowed to open their doors. But in general, retailers - including supermarkets - are required by Swiss law to shut on Sundays. 

The closure, which is regulated by labour law, used to be down to religious reasons. However, nowadays trade unions argue that Sundays should remain a day of rest for workers to be able to spend time with their loved ones without being stuck on a rota and possibly working both days of the weekend.

But could this be about to change?

In the last few months, pressure has been building on politicians to relax these rules. 

In July, Zurich and Geneva, along with Ticino and Lucerne, asked the Federal Council to permit more Sunday shopping in parts of these cantons that have particularly high tourist traffic – and their plight did not fall on deaf ears.

On Thursday, the Federal Council announced that it wants to allow Sunday shopping in urban tourist hotspots of certain municipalities – however not all of them will qualify.

To be eligible, cities must have a population of at least 60,000, and foreign tourists must constitute at least 50 percent of customers in local hotels.

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On Wednesday, the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) submitted a revision of Article 25a of Ordinance 2 to the Labor Act (ArGV 2) to be considered in order for the change to become recognised by Swiss law.

This new regulation would allow some shops in urban areas with frequent international tourism to employ workers on Sundays throughout the year without a permit.

Sunday openings would be confined to parts of cities where cultural offerings, hotels, and restaurants are located in walking distance, rather than in random areas.

The cantons will be responsible for designating the cities and areas within them where Sunday shopping should be authorised. As such, according to a press release by the Federal Council, the revision will not apply to entire cities.

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The shop opening times will also not be addressed by the revision as they too are regulated by the individual cantons or municipalities.

Moreover, the new provision limits the sales range to an offer (products on sale) that serves to satisfy the specific needs of (international) tourists.

No details are given as to what products these may be.

The regulation further states that the employees working on Sunday should be entitled to compensation for Sunday work that goes beyond the legal requirements, in addition to the claims to substitute rest time in accordance with the Labour Act. However, it is up to the cantons to determine where these compensations are set.

READ MORE: What you need to know about working on Sundays in Switzerland

At the beginning of 2022, Switzerland Tourism and the city partners approached the EAER with a request to redefine the term "tourist area" in Ordinance 2, which is also intended to take international city tourism into account.

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Currently, tourism areas in Switzerland according to today's Art. 25 ArGV 2 are spa, sports, excursion, and recreational locations in which tourism is of essential importance and is subject to considerable seasonal fluctuations.

Just a few months ago, Swiss Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said he wants to see more shop allowed to open on Sundays  in major Swiss cities.

Pamelin believes that allowing big shopping streets to open could attract more tourists.

The Swiss Department of Economic Affairs (EAER) confirmed that Sunday opening is "envisaged in urban tourist areas," and it is moving ahead with plans. At the end of November, an "external consultation on this topic will be opened", according to Urs Wiedmer, spokesman for the EAER. This process normally takes three months.

The plans are reportedly based on an initiative by Zurich's Director of Economic Affairs, Carmen Walker Späh (FDP).

Under the proposal, cantons would determine where a need for extended Sunday opening exists. 

Areas such as the Altstadt, Bahnhofstrasse and Europaallee in Zurich are under discussion as tourism zones, while the central districts in Lucerne, Lugano and Bern are also possible streets that could see Sunday shop openings.

In Geneva, the Rue du Rhône and the Rue du Marché are likely tourist zones, while in Basel the focus is on Freie Strasse. In Lausanne, Place Saint-François and Rue de Bourg could get the green light to open shops on Sundays. 

However, trade unions were sceptical about the proposals. 

"Although tourism in the cities has returned to pre-corona levels, they are now trying to continue the 'salami tactics'," Adrian Wüthrich, president of the trade union umbrella organisation Travailsuisse, told Blick. He referenced how it started with shops being allowed to open in tourist resorts and stations - and now it is moving to city centres.

But which shops can currently stay open on Sundays?

Even though Switzerland is yet to – and may never – embrace the idea of opening all shops on Sundays, some shops do not require a permit from authorities to remain open on a Sunday.

These are:

Businesses in tourist areas for the needs of international visitors during the high season (Art. 25 ArGV 2).

Shopping centres for the needs of international tourism (Art. 25 ArGV 2) in conjunction with the EAER regulation on the designation of shopping centres for the needs of international tourism).

Kiosks on public streets and squares (Art. 26 ArGV 2).

Establishments for travellers at train stations, airports, other public transport terminals and in border towns that offer a limited range of goods and services that are primarily aimed at the needs of travellers (Art. 26 ArGV 2). This special provision is limited to serving customers.

Petrol station shops on motorway service areas and on main routes with heavy travel traffic, which offer a range of goods and services that are primarily aimed at the needs of travellers (Art. 26 ArGV 2). This special provision is limited to serving customers.

Establishments in train stations, which are centres of public transport due to the high volume of travel, and airports2 (Art. 26a ArGV 2) in conjunction with the EAER regulation on the designation of train stations and airports). This special provision is limited to serving customers.

Bakeries, pastry shops, confectioneries, as long as they mainly sell home-made products (Art. 27 ArGV 2).

Flower shops in the retail trade (Art. 29 ArGV 2).

 

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