Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Twenty-Eighth Report

Letter from the Department of Trade and Industry to the Clerk

Thank you for your letter of 7 November.

We apologise for the confusion created by our suggestion in the RIA that the proposal would 'allow large shops to adjust their opening hours at much shorter notice than currently because they will not have to give 2 weeks advance notice of changes in planned opening hours'. To provide a fuller reflection of our views, the RIA ought to have gone on to explain why we do not expect this to happen in practice.

As your letter recognises, although concerns were raised by USDAW and Blackpool Borough Council, about a potential impact on staff, both did nonetheless support our proposals. When we spoke to USDAW officials (after receipt of their response) and explained our position, they found our points convincing, but saw no need to write in again as they had already indicated support for the proposal.

We do not consider that our proposal does remove any protection in regard to hours, because the present requirement for two weeks notice is directed only at Local Authorities, there is no mention in the legislation of giving any notice period to staff. In theory despite giving two weeks notice to local authorities, stores could tell staff of their intentions the day before. However we are not aware of instances of staff being given unreasonable notice of changes to hours at this at present (it is not a matter raised with us in correspondence or in cases to employment tribunals).

We see no reason why this situation would change. We consider it to be in the interests of stores to give customers plenty of notice of their intentions to be open. If customers do not know what hours stores are open, stores will simply lose business. It is likely that customers would be annoyed and frustrated by frequent changes in opening hours. It is also in the interests of stores to ensure that their staff are available for work - they are essential to the store opening and providing a good service.

We do not consider that stores will wish to change their hours frequently as a result of the removal of notification procedures (the need to write one letter at a cost of approximately £12.50 is not a major disincentive to change hours frequently now if they wished to do so), it is in our view simply an unnecessary burden that they should have to do so.

The Sunday Trading Act 1994 provided comprehensive protection (now consolidated into the Employment Rights Act 1996) for shop workers in England and Wales who do not wish to work on Sundays. All shop workers, except those employed to work solely on Sundays, have the right to refuse to work on Sundays and to be protected against dismissal or detriment (for instance, refusal of promotion or training opportunities) for doing so.

If shop workers are willing to work on Sundays, their hours - like other general terms and conditions of employment - are a contractual matter for negotiation and agreement between them (or their representatives) and their employers, as are any subsequent variation in those hours. Even if shop workers have entered into a contractual agreement, they can elect to change this agreement subject to a 3 months notice period.

The proposed notification changes will not effect the rights of Sunday shop workers which are now contained in the Employment Act 1996.

Please let me know if you would find any further information helpful.

14 November 2003

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