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Budget 2015: Chattering classes with plenty of cash only ones wanting more time to shop

By Laurence White

Published 09/07/2015

It was only one sentence in a Budget speech of 10,000 words that took 66 minutes to deliver, but George Osborne's plan to relax Sunday shopping restrictions in England and Wales should not be dismissed as irrelevant to Northern Ireland.

We currently have the shortest Sunday opening hours in the UK and if the gap widens big business will be piling on the pressure for change here too.

And so too will the chattering classes.

For longer opening hours will benefit only those with the cash and time to go shopping. They are the people who want pubs, restaurants, garden centres and shops open all hours so that they can indulge themselves on their leisurely weekends.

Not for them the drudgery of having to work on Saturdays or Sundays.

That is the role of the working class, there to serve to the whims of their better-offs.

The Tory Government may see longer Sunday opening as a way of creating more jobs and boosting the economy, but is it really?

When the then Department for Social Development Minister Alex Attwood issued a consultation paper on extended opening hours here in 2011, shop workers union USDAW revealed that 73% of 1,000 members interviewed were against the idea. More than half said they were already under pressure from employers to work on a Sunday and felt that pressure would increase.

But, most shamefully, only 54% said they received pay above their normal rates for working on Sundays. Does anyone imagine that employers have got more generous in the interim, especially with an immigrant population willing to work for low pay?

The chattering classes often sneer that it is Bible-thumping Protestant fundamentalists who are the only opponents of Sunday opening, just as they were responsible for tying up the swings in the 1950s and 1960s.

That is nonsense, of course. All the Churches want greater regard paid to Sundays. After all, if they won't stand up for the Sabbath, who will? And they are quite right in also demanding that those who sacrifice their Sundays for the pleasure of others should be treated justly.

So, perhaps we are asking the wrong question when we contain ourselves to a possible extension of shopping hours. Why should it be only the private sector - apart obviously from the emergency services - that has to consider giving up the weekend?

The public sector provides a myriad of services, which it would be good to access on Sundays. Why can't we MoT our cars on a Sunday, or discuss our diminishing benefits, or contact anyone in a Government department? You would have more chance of finding the Holy Grail than a civil servant at work on a Sunday. Oh, and they don't work bank holidays either - why?

But then the licence payer-funded BBC in Northern Ireland also likes its weekends off with only a skeleton staff in the newsroom producing truncated bulletins. Should we not be entitled to a refund for this diminished service?

With the Chancellor pegging public sector pay rises to one per cent a year, perhaps some civil servants would like the idea of working on a Sunday to boost their wages, already higher than that of their private sector peers.

However, that is an option they are unlikely ever to have.

Sunday working is not for their type and they have the ear of the legislators. Instead they, like the rest of the middle and professional classes, can clock off on a Friday secure in the knowledge that the weekend is their oyster, or whatever other exotic food they can find on the shop aisles on a Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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