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Lifting of restrictions on Sunday trading in Britain bad news for women


Tara Doyle
Contact Law

Although deregulation of Sunday trading is hugely unpopular in Britain, the government recently fast-tracked legislation to suspend the restrictions on Sunday trading during the Olympics which open this week.

Although large shops in England and Wales can normally open for only six hours on Sundays according to the Sunday Trading Act, the amended statute allows these restrictions to be lifted on eight Sundays around the Games.

Retail employees in Britain are among the lowest paid and least regarded section of the workforce; further de-regulation, such as longer opening hours on Sundays, are likely to make things worse.

Women shop workers in particular experience many disadvantages. Even in terms of career advancement, women do not get promoted within stores as often as their male colleagues.

According to the Skillsmart Retail Analysis, around 60 per cent of women work in lower-paid customer service roles, while only 13 per cent achieve managerial status.

However, while 47 per cent of male employees in the retail sector work in customer service roles, 25 per cent of retail managers are male.

Lack of flexibility plays a part in this imbalance. Women retail workers often feel it is not worth their while to return to a low-paid job after giving birth, given that childcare is so expensive in the UK.

The average cost of a nursery place is around £117 per week; even the manager of a medium-sized store outside the south east of England may take home, on average, only £400 per week net.

Stress is also an issue. Although their jobs may not be perceived as ’high-powered’, women retail workers are on the front-line regarding customer services and violent incidents even in this sector are an increasing problem.

Long-term stress can lead to depression, and unfortunately women are more than twice as likely to experience depression, compared to men, at some point in their lives.

In a survey of its members, the shop workers union, USDAW, reported in March this year that women are also twice as likely to feel unsafe on journeys to and from work as men. This figure may be higher in the context of Sunday working, when public transport may be less frequent, car parks may be emptier and the streets more deserted.

Shop workers are, possibly rightly, concerned that the change in legislation is the thin end of the wedge and that the amendments will remain in place long after the Games have finished.

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