The Cayman Islands government is again looking at the possibility of liberalising its Sunday trading laws. Public meetings have garnered next-to-no interest one way or the other. Even in George Town only 40 people turned up to the meeting (I was not one of them – partly because I don’t live in George Town, partly because I didn’t know the meeting was happening, and partly because I didn’t imagine that my opinions expressed at that meeting would amount to a hill of beans).
What’s prompting me to say something at this point is by way of an FYI in response to today’s Cayman Compass editorial piece. In it the author raises valid points about the inadequacy of tradition as a good reason not to do something, and the lack of a consensus among the religious majority in this country as to what “keep the Sabbath holy” means. They also raise a good point about the hypocrisy of some who are trying to hold a firm ground on grocery stores’ opening while having no complaint about people eating out at restaurants, using water sports facilities, the cinema etc.
In England when this debate was going on 30 years ago, a campaign called ‘Keep Sunday Special’ attempted to maintain the prohibition on the provision of all but essential services. The argument that won the day however, took two main forms: money and personal choice. Business owners were desperate to get a greater slice of the pie, or to get just enough pie to survive. Consumers wanted the freedom to shop when they wanted to shop. All the while conveniently forgetting that customers do not get any more money to spend just because the shops are open for longer. Shopworkers trades unions could see the implications though, and they were opposed to the liberalisation of trading laws.
Running through it all was a false assertion – repeated today in the Compass – that “Opening a business on Sunday would be a matter of personal choice, as would patronizing any business that decides to open. No one is forcing anyone to do anything”.
So if Fosters decide they want to open on Sundays, you think Hurleys and Kirks have a “choice” about whether or not to open on Sundays? Of course they have a choice. That choice is, a.) stay shut and risk going out of business because of loss of revenue, or b.) be coerced into opening on Sunday just to survive. And by opening that extra day without any extra income (no, people’s grocery budgets
won’t go up because the stores are open on Sundays), what happens? Market share doesn’t change, costs go up and profits go down, which means either workers’ wages go down, people get laid off, owners profits go down, or costs to the consumer go up – or most likely, all of the above.
And what about all the people who work in those stores? Will they have a choice about whether to work on Sundays? Of course they have a choice. That choice is: a.) keep your job and join the rota for Sunday working; b.) don’t work on Sundays and lose your job.
Or what about the small business owner with one member of staff who survives on the scraps that fall from the supermakets’ table? He will be working 7 days a week, every week, because if he doesn’t he’ll default on his mortgage because some customers will decide Sunday is a more convenient shopping day, and head over to Fosters if he’s not open. So much for his or her quality of life.
So if we want an open, non-religious conversation about Sunday opening of supermarkets that’s fine, but let’s not start it by repeating 30 year old untruths and pretending that this is about progress.
Personal choice is often a good thing, sometimes the only thing, and sometimes a choice for some results in lack of choice and loss of earnings for many other people.