Government Yet Again Tells Lithuanians Not to Work
Dominykas Šumskis // 05.07.2016
With Lithuanian Parliamentary elections approaching, Lithuanian MPs, like magicians, are pulling out of a hat the same old populistic laws. Once again they are trying to push through an old and already bashed suggestion that prohibits people from working on holidays.
MPs want to prohibit retail shops from working on January 1, February 16 (Independence Day), March 11 (Restoration of Independence Day), Easter, July 6 (Coronation Day) and Christmas. There are no economic arguments for the legislation. Only anecdotes that workers can’t spend holidays with their families. They make it sound as though everyone in retail sector is a Cinderella working 20 hours a day, 8 days a week and only remembers his or her families from pictures. But the Labour code sets the same vacation and resting rules for all workers. Retailers are not excluded in any way.
Let us not forget that it is not just retailers who work on holidays. This also includes taxi drivers, musicians, cafe and bar staff even police officers, firefighters and doctors. In other words, anyone who has to and wants to work. Moreover, according to Lithuanian law, those who work on holidays are entitled to a double hourly wage. But, instead, our MPs suggest not only to lower the number of work places, but also to deprive people of a chance to make more money.
Let us break down this prohibition and see what it actually means for an employee. Take Greece, for example. The country is in economic turmoil. The European Commission, IMF and other countries are doing their best to pull the Greeks out of disaster. Partners urge them to liberalise labour laws and to let shops work as much as they wish, as it is one of the ways to liven up the economy. Lithuanian MPs say just the opposite: do not work.
There are many countries abolishing outdated retail shop prohibitions that date back to the 1930s. Sweden, USA and Australia went down the road of liberalisation. These countries became more competitive and productive compared to their counterparts who still heavily regulate the retail sector. With less limitations, shops made more money. With more money, they can increase their investment and provide more efficient and satisfactory customer service. It is difficult to argue against the fact that you are more likely to make more money if you adjust to the needs of the consumer.
In the USA the states that have abolished old regulations have seen a higher increase in the number of workplaces compared to the states where such regulations remained.
Also, we should not make the mistake and believe that such regulations are common. On the contrary. Ireland, England, Bulgaria, Czech, Georgia, Croatia, Estonia, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey do not have restrictions on the holiday working hours. Some of the countries have limitations on Christmas and Christmas Eve, but it can not be compared to the prohibition to work on 6 days, as it is now proposed in Lithuania.
Some shops in these countries are closed on holidays, but this is not due to some ban. Shops set their own working hours according to the amount of customers. No shop will open if it is unprofitable. The same goes for Lithuanian shops and malls, some of which do not work on certain days. But the rationale behind it is the same as in other countries. Shops choose to do so because it is not worth it, not because of government bans.
MPs that propose this legislation puff their chests and proudly claim that with such prohibitions people will start showing more respect to state holidays. Unfortunately, evidence shows that such limitations will only make a part of the shop workers show the respect while being unemployed. The saddest part is that it will affect the most vulnerable part of the workforce that can barely cling to their current jobs – the least qualified and the young. And retail shops have a lot of these workers. It is they who will be sacrificed in the name of “respecting” the state holidays.
Let us not forget the customers. Where will they shop on these days? Nowhere. Ran out of Christmas wine, mayonnaise for Easter eggs or some meat for the grill party on July 6? Nobody cares, you will have to buy all of that on another day. Even more, the MPs claim that one should not go shopping on holidays, because that is immoral. Let me ask, since when does work or commerce in general mean disrespecting your country?
On the contrary, it is the work, commerce and collaboration rather than laziness that produces growth in our country. With its term coming to an end, the Parliament, who always talks about more workplaces, should not push forward legislations that do just the opposite. If they want to help Lithuanians create their own country, the least they could do is not get in the way of people who are eager to work and earn a decent living.
Dominykas Šumskis is Policy Analyst at the Lithuanian Free Market Institute.