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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Sunday Trading Bill

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

During the passage of the Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Bill through the House of Commons Meg gave the following speech.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Britain’s success in hosting the 2012 Olympic games provides a fantastic opportunity for people throughout the country to experience directly this world-class sporting and cultural event. Our business and tourism industry can thrive during the summer. From the beginning of the bid process there has been cross-party support to make these the best games possible for the thousands and thousands of extra visitors we are expecting. Unfortunately, the Government have handled very poorly the suspension of existing Sunday trading restrictions, resulting in confusion and anger from those directly affected—namely, shop workers and small businesses.

If the Bill is not being used as the thin end of the wedge for permanent change, why did the Government not limit the temporary relaxation of Sunday trading laws to the specifically affected areas—that is, London?

We have heard that there are events in one or two other places, but those are much smaller and they will not receive the large number of visitors that will come to London.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that the problem with the idea that this is the thin end of the wedge and a trial for permanent expansion is that it would be a ludicrous trial basis, given that we will have hundreds of thousands of new visitors and customers and it would be foolish to make a judgment based on that new market?

Meg Munn: Many, many people are concerned and suspicious of that. Clearly, the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman has some merit, but the concerns expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson), who has worked in the retail industry, also have a great deal of merit.

Helen Jones: My hon. Friend, like me, represents a constituency a long way from London. Does she agree that it is most unfair that shop workers in my constituency and hers should be forced to work on Sundays, and that convenience stores should suffer the resulting drop in trade, because the Government have decided to extend the experiment throughout the country?

Meg Munn: That is precisely my point. If the Government had set out to undertake proper consultation, the suggested changes could have been tightly focused and would have reassured, instead of increasing bad feeling and suspicion about the Government’s intentions.

Jim Shannon: Is the hon. Lady aware that the Chancellor has said that the suspension will be a temporary measure, but that the Treasury may “learn lessons” from this experiment? What lessons does she think the Government may learn?

Meg Munn: If the Treasury decides to come forward with that, the hon. Member for Enfield

North (Nick de Bois) will no doubt express his strong view that it has no merit whatever.

The Association of Convenience Stores has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members already. Its poll showed that Sunday trading liberalisation is unpopular: 89% of the public were opposed to further change in the law and, as we have heard, a survey of more than 20,000 USDAW members conducted after the March Budget announcement found that 78% opposed the suspension of Sunday trading laws during the Olympic Games.

As it is, 51% already come under pressure from their employers to work Sundays, and 73% said that they would come under more pressure to work on Sundays if shops were allowed to open for longer. Shop workers deserve the right to enjoy the Olympics just like everybody else.

Robert Flello: My hon. Friend is making a very good and thoughtful speech. Does she agree that there are two other concerns? If a shop worker has been lucky enough to get a ticket to an event on a Sunday, there is a risk that they will go to their employer and be told, “No, sorry, you’ve got to get rid of the ticket. You’re not going,” or that their colleagues will be upset because the employee will say to their employer, “I have a ticket. I would like to go,” and the employer will say, “Yes, you can go, but that means one of your colleagues now has to fill your place on Sunday.”

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend introduces just two circumstances that could occur. I shall shortly come on to others that cause me concern.

It has already been made clear that workers wishing to exercise their right to opt out of working on a Sunday under the Bill would have to notify their employer by 22 May. That is surely unreasonable. Many workers will not be aware of this important date, and I ask the Minister what the Government intend to do to tell them. I remind the House that these additional opening hours could be 7 am until midnight, hours that could significantly affect family life.

Without appropriate safeguards during the Olympics, extended Sunday working hours will provide an excuse for employers to move contracted weekday hours to a Sunday. Despite current Sunday opt-out rules, many shop workers are already being forced to spend that time at work. They experience difficulties getting into work on a Sunday, as we heard. Some also experience the problem of a lack of child care, which is especially hard for single parents. There is currently a demand for retail staff to be flexible with working hours. An extension of Sunday trading hours will simply add to the strain.

When I visit supermarkets in my constituency, what I hear from the staff is that many employers are issuing low-hours contracts, meaning that employees have to work whatever additional hours are available and offered, rather than what fits their own circumstances. The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) made the point that sometimes workers indeed want extra hours because they do not have a contract that gives them enough money to live on. If their contract is 20 hours whereas they would like to work full-time, they may well be offered only the Sunday hours. So the idea that there is real choice is ill-founded.

We know that in surveys workers have commented as follows: “Large stores give you 28 days to change your contract to comply with their requests to cover the extra shifts. This is bullying because they know people need to keep their jobs.”

Another said: “Although Sunday working is optional, to ask for a Sunday off is a crime and to try and book it off as a holiday, 9 out of 10 will get refused.”

Other staff are worried about the increased risk of crime within stores, with fewer police working on a Sunday and fewer staff in the stores.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The hon. Lady and other Members have alluded to the USDAW survey and the concerns of existing employees. Is there not another issue? Given the hoped-for and anticipated increase in trade generally in the retail sector during the Olympics, people who are not currently in retail but will be over the next few months will feel under even more pressure, as they are very new employees who do not understand the difficulties of pressure in the workplace?

Meg Munn: Of course there will be that concern for newly employed staff, but we know from existing practices that extra staff may well not be taken on. The existing staff will be expected to cover the additional time by reducing the hours worked from Monday to Friday. There are many problems. Managers in particular feel the pressure of having to work Sundays themselves, with the added pressure of having to ask their teams to cover longer hours. Like many other Members, I have been contacted by constituents and petitioners who find that very difficult.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): On that point, I am not sure how many hon. Members have actually worked in a shop, but I worked for Marks & Spencer on the shop floor for seven years and know that it is physically quite a demanding job. When looking at the expectation that people will work yet more time, we need to remember that physically that will be quite difficult for some. The other issue I want to touch on is benefits. A number of these people, if they do extra hours, will go above the benefit cut-off point for a few weeks and then down again. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is potentially a bureaucratic nightmare?

Meg Munn: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. We know that when someone receiving benefits has flexible hours the different amounts coming in can lead to great complexity and cause them many problems.

The Association of Convenience Stores has strong concerns about the Government’s impact assessment. Two major studies referenced in the assessment failed to make the case for a significant amount of additional spending resulting from the liberalisation. The Centre for Retail Research has estimated an overall increase in sales of £189.9 million, but the impact assessment fails to set this in the context of the sales value of the UK retail sector, which is in excess of £300 billion. It uses a limited research base and is not a sound basis for estimating the impact of the legislation. This study is just a reflection of the Government’s hasty action in introducing legislation without understanding the full implications.

The total cost for the 40,000 convenience stores across England and Wales will be £480 million over the eight weekends of the Olympic and Paralympic games, which again raises the question of why these legislative changes will apply to the whole country. The impact assessment fails to recognise that convenience stores might be strongly affected.

The Co-operative group has strongly expressed the view that the legislation threatens high streets and secondary shopping locations up and down the country, rather than helping them to stay vibrant. It believes that any relaxation of the existing Sunday trading laws will have a detrimental effect on independent retailers, who make a vital contribution to sustainable and viable local communities.

I must echo some of the feelings expressed in contributions made by hon. Friends. What is this desperate need to get to a shop? Under the coalition Government, we now live in a country in which it can take two weeks to get an appointment with a GP when something is wrong, so why do they think people cannot wait a few hours to get into a large shop? I must say that the reasons for that escape me.

The Government must make it clear that there will be no future attempt to change Sunday trading rules without an extensive consultation period. If these changes are purely in the interests of national and community gain throughout the period of the Olympic games, they should be subject to more vigorous scrutiny, target the specific areas of London that will be affected, assure a temporary time limit and guarantee that shop workers’ rights will be protected.

 


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