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Unions in Hungary seek referendum to overturn shopping ban

Hungarian trade unions will try to launch a referendum to overturn a new rule banning most stores from opening on Sundays. Istvan Gasko, president of the Democratic League of Independent Trade Unions, said Monday the government had held only "pretend negotiations" before making the decision, which affects most stores across the country from March 15.

„Together with the country’s largest employers’ group, the National Association of Entrepreneurs and Employers, we decided to initiate a referendum to conclude this matter and ask people whether or not they support the Sunday closures,” Gasko said.

He explained that the change hurts employees, many of whom earn the minimum monthly wage of 105,000 forints ($365) before taxes, because they will lose Sunday bonuses, while consumers will lose the comfort of Sunday shopping.

The unions need an electoral committee’s approval and 200,000 signatures to have a referendum.

The „Free Sunday” initiative proposed by the Christian Democrats, a small ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban''''''''s Fidesz party, has not found favor with most consumers.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the new rules were similar to those in some other European countries and that any negative effects on consumer spending, a key factor in Hungary’s economic growth, would be temporary.

„We believe that what is working in Germany, in Austria, in Norway, in Holland, is going to work in Hungary,” Kovacs said. „The goal is that people are not forced to work on Sundays.”

A poll by Ipsos found that 68 percent of respondents were totally or somewhat against the ban, although 77 percent said they did not usually shop on Sundays.

Some shoppers were clearly upset by the ban.

„I don’t agree at all with shops being closed on Sundays ... because people work so much and until so late on weekdays that they have no other time” (to shop), said Budapest resident Gabriella Szentgyorgyi.


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