Saturday supermarket hours spark retail row

Ten years after Germany relaxed its laws on Saturday opening hours, supermarkets in the cities have cashed in on staying open longer, while in rural areas few remain open past 6.30 pm. Trade unions say workers are under too much pressure.

Saturday supermarket hours spark retail row
Photo: DPA

In major cities like Berlin, the trend has been towards keeping supermarkets open as late as possible on Saturday night. Supermarket chains Kaisers and Penny stay until just before midnight, while some branches of Lidl, Rewe and Real have opted to stay open until 10 pm.

It’s a different story in the countryside however. According to Hans Sterr of the Bavarian branch of trade union Verdi, few supermarkets in rural areas stay open past 6.30 pm. And, he says, “it works fine.”

Just a few years ago, Germany’s once restrictive Ladenschluss closing time laws saw many shops close as early as 2 pm on Saturdays.

The only states to have maintained the Saturday opening hours in place before 2003 are Bavaria and Saarland. “We want to prevent this bastion from being shot down,” said Sterr.

In some places, efforts are being made to reverse the trend of ever-longer opening hours. Earlier this month, North Rhine-Westphalia banned supermarkets from staying open past 10 pm. And in Hamburg, large shopping centres like the Elbe-Einkaufszentrum have even started to close at 8 pm. On Berlin’s major Kudamm shopping street, supermarkets have started closing earlier too.

Sterr says the trend towards longer opening hours has been accompanied by a “significant deterioration” in conditions for workers, especially for single parents, who struggle to balance family and home life with their working hours.

Figures show however that Saturday remains the most popular day to do the grocery shopping. In the first four months of this year, there were 32 percent more purchases and 57 percent more spent on Saturdays than on Mondays.

“Generally the day families have time to go shopping is on Saturdays,” Kai Falk managing director of the German retail federation said.

DPA/The Local/kkf

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Amazon workers across Germany go on strike for higher wages in build up to ‘online Xmas’

Employees of the online retailer Amazon have downed their tools at several locations across Germany in a protest against precarious wages, but the online shopping giant insists that the strike won’t impact Christmas deliveries.

Amazon workers across Germany go on strike for higher wages in build up to 'online Xmas'
Photo: DPA

In Bad Hersfeld, in the central state of Hesse, employees at an Amazon logistics centre started their strike early on Monday morning. A spokeswoman for the Verdi trade union said they expected about 500 workers at the retail company to take part. 

In Rheinberg and Werne in North Rhine-Westphalia, the strike began shortly before midnight on Sunday evening, with some 500 workers taking part and further 300 workers in the town of Werne joining in.

The union action has hit six locations across the country in total and strike action is set to last until Christmas Eve.

The trade union Verdi had called for strikes at various locations as it sought to push Amazon into recognition of the collective agreements which are commonly established established between trade unions and employer associations in Germany.

“Last week's closure of on-site retail has once again significantly increased the volume of orders placed with mail-order companies such as Amazon,” Verdi said in a statement.

“While the corporation continues to increase its billions in profits, it refuses to pay employees according to collective bargaining agreements. These are minimum conditions,” the union added.

A Verdi spokesman added that Amazon was earning “a golden profit” while workers' health suffered under the stress of delivering packages on time during the pandemic.

Additionally, the trade union said it wanted to push for better health and safety at the workplace in Amazon logistics centres. 

Amazon has always resisted joining in such agreements, claiming that it offers good wages outside of the traditional trade union structures.

Amazon said Monday that its employees already benefit from “excellent wages, excellent fringe benefits and excellent career opportunities.” 

The US-based firm also said that it made health and well-being at work a top priority. 

The company insisted that the strikes would have no impact on customer deliveries in the run up to Christmas, stating that the vast majority of employees work as normal.