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More time off for retail staff at Christmas ‘impractical’

But trade union backs councillor’s motion for extended holiday breaks

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Londonderry Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Paul Clancy. Credit: Stephen Latimer

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Paul Clancy. Credit: Stephen Latimer

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Paul Clancy. Credit: Stephen Latimer

Calls for retail workers in Northern Ireland to have more time off during the Christmas holiday period have been branded "impractical".

People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin is calling on Derry and Strabane council to support union Usdaw's (Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers) demand for extended bank holiday breaks for shop workers.

He is backing calls for retail stores to close early on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve as well as to stay shut on Christmas Day and Boxing Day as well as on New Year's Day.

"Everyone should be able to spend quality time with family and friends over the festive season," he said.

"It's wrong for very profitable retailers to demand their low-paid workers give up their Christmas holidays to make even greater profits.

"Corporations encourage sales based on getting into the festive spirit – they should extend this festive spirit to their workforce."

He is putting forward a motion – which calls for the council to write to major retailers and the Stormont Executive – at its next full meeting.

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It states: “Long hours in the run-up to Christmas and shops re-opening early on Boxing Day leaves many retail workers too exhausted and with insufficient time off to enjoy the Christmas holiday.”

It also notes that no loss of pay for retail workers when stores are closed.

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer, Paul Clancy, however, insisted retailers need to maximise trading periods – especially due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

“The pandemic has had a huge effect on workers and businesses alike, and frontline workers including those who work in retail have been crucial for everyone throughout the past 18 months," he explained.

"Proposals to support these workers and businesses who have been at the coalface during Covid should be welcomed.

“However, the Christmas period is traditionally one of the most busy and fruitful periods for many businesses, especially smaller retailers and independent traders.”

He continued: "After the severe impact of the pandemic, businesses of these kinds need all the help they can get and maximise the trading opportunities before them, especially in the run up to Christmas.

"Closures for these businesses, therefore, would not, in many cases, be practical."

He also stressed that it was “already the case” many large retailers and supermarkets close for December 25 as well as operating reduced hours on Christmas Eve and on December 31 and New Year’s Day for their staff.

Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lilis said the union welcomed Councillor Harkin’s support with his motion.

“We’ve been asking retailers to give their staff a proper Christmas break and allow them some much-needed family time for a number of years,” said Paddy.

“Usdaw’s survey of 12,000 retail workers found that 97% think shops should be closed on Boxing Day and three quarters of staff say the demands of work affect their ability to enjoy Christmas.”

He continued: “Therefore, we’ve been asking shops to close at 4pm on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and stay shuttered over Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day (and January 2 in Scotland).

“This year our campaign has been gaining momentum throughout the retail sector with Aldi, Home Bargains, Waitrose, Pets at Home, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Habitat, Morrisons and Central England Co-operative all announcing festive closures.

“Usdaw’s position is clear: the hardworking staff – the key workers – who have done so much to keep us all fed and watered need a proper break.”


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