Belfast shop workers call on council to reject new Sunday shopping proposal
Shop workers and independent retailers have united to urge Belfast City Council to ditch plans for longer trading hours on Sundays.
The council has been considering either having the city centre or whole district designated as a holiday resort - which would allow large shops the option of extending their Sunday trading hours between March and October each year.
But Usdaw, the trade union which represents retail workers, and the independent retailers' organisation Retail NI, have written a joint letter to councillors urging them to abandon the proposal.
Usdaw said a survey of workers showed that 94% opposed the proposal with two thirds saying they are already under pressure to work on Sundays.
Almost half said they have caring responsibilities that they are already struggling to fit around their work.
Retail NI said the proposal will have a damaging effect on small independent retailers.
The council's strategic policy and resources committee is set to consider the proposal on Friday.
It is understood that the initial proposal was made in response to a "strong lobby" who want to improve the tourism offering in Belfast, particularly on a Sunday morning, to boost the local economy and to support the overall regeneration of the city centre.
In a public consultation carried out by the council in 2017, 62% of respondents wanted to see longer trading hours, while 38% did not.
However, a 2018 supplementary consultation only found 48.7% of those surveyed in favour, and 50.7% against.
In their joint letter, Retail NI and Usdaw said they believe that, if passed, the proposal would have a detrimental effect on retail workers, their families, independent retailers and the wider community.
"Retail workers are already under immense pressure to work long hours with the one respite they have being the legally enforced shorter trading hours on a Sunday which allows them much needed time with their family and friends," the joint letter states.
"Not only would the proposed change place extra pressure on retail workers, it would also have a damaging effect on small independent retailers (below 3000 sq ft) who can trade for those vital few hours on a Sunday morning.
"Local independent retailers have seen a 71% hike in their rates bill following the last rates revaluation and continue to struggle to stay in business.
"If this proposal to allow large multiple retailers to open all day Sunday for nearly half the year is passed, it will result in a number of your local community independent retailers closing."
The letter - which is signed by Usdaw General Secretary John Hannett and Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts - said the city council last year rejected a similar suggestion, adding they hope it will again this year.
"Having been through this process just last year, with a decision taken not to move forward with the proposal, we believe that the key issues are well understood and that there is no evidence of a shift since then in either the mood amongst the public or retail workers, or in the needs of businesses, small or large," they said.
"As part of last year's consultation, our organisations made clear that we were more than willing to work alongside Belfast City Council and other interested parties to explore options that would deliver a real and meaningful boost to the weekend economy of Belfast.
"Our offer to work together as part of a 'weekend summit' still stands and we remain committed to a vibrant and successful Belfast.
"We urge councillors to reject this proposal."