info suisse Fall 2015
Economy | Switzerland-Canada Comparisons
Tourists and residents appreciate that shops in Canada are open 12 hours a day (or longer) and seven days a week. In contrast, visitors to Switzerland find it frustrating that shops close on Sundays and on weekdays in the early afternoon. While longer opening hours are a constant debate in Switzerland, many Canadians hardly remember the times when Canada also had a Sunday closing law.
Since 1906, Canada had a so-called Lord’s Day Act, which prohibited business transactions on Sundays. In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Lord’s Day Act violates Canadians’ freedom of religion and is inconsistent with the Canadian charter. The immediate consequence of this ruling was that the ten provinces became responsible for permitting Sunday shopping within their own jurisdictions. By 1993, all provinces had passed a legislation either for restricted or openwide Sunday shopping. However, the result is a patchwork of regulations differing widely from province to province and, in addition, by season and type of retail business.
In the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan and in all three territories, there are no restrictions at all and stores can stay open 24 hours every day. In Toronto, retail stores are required to be closed on the following nine public holidays: New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Exempt from this act are small stores with a maximum of three employees and gas stations. The province of Quebec is the only province in Canada that regulates shopping hours outside of Sundays and holidays.
In reality, few stores in Canada remain open 24/7. Exceptions are small grocery stores and some stores of the Sobeys chain. Typical opening hours for shopping centres are 10 am – 9 pm from Monday to Saturday, and 12 pm – 6 pm on Sunday. Switzerland
According to the Swiss Employment Act, working is generally allowed between 6 am and 11 pm. Working on Sundays and on public holidays is not permitted or requires a permit. According to this law, shops in Switzerland can be open Monday to Saturday from 6 am to 11 pm. However, 16 of the 26 cantons have further restrictions. For instance, stores in some cantons are forced to close as early as 4 pm on Saturdays and 6.30 pm on weekdays. On the other hand, shops at petrol stations or shops that employ family members are allowed to stay open longer. Exceptions also apply to airports, railway stations and tourist resorts. 21 cantons permit shopping on up to four Sundays per year (mostly in December).
Retailers with outlets in cantons bordering neighbouring European countries claim that the restrictions of shopping hours encourages cross-border shopping. In Italy, for instance, retail opening hours are not regulated. Shops can be open around the clock. In Switzerland’s neighbouring state of Baden-Württemberg, the legal opening hours are 24 hours on weekdays and up to three Sundays and holidays a year. In most cantons the following shop opening times apply:
- Monday to Friday 9 am – 7 pm
- Thursday (late-night opening) 9 am – 9 pm
- Saturday 8 am – 5 pm. Smaller shops even have a lunch-hour closure.
Two years ago, a federal parliamentarian initiated a law to set uniform national opening hours for shops. The draft law worked out by the Federal Government proposes that shops across Switzerland can stay open on weekdays from 6 am to 8 pm, on Saturdays from 6 am to 7 pm and on four Sundays a year. Interestingly, almost all cantons are opposed to this law, because they say the legislation threatens their autonomy Moreover, 16 cantons would be forced to allow more liberal opening hours than they currently permit. On the other hand, supporters of the law say the longer hours respond to the needs of customers and that the retail trade would risk serious sales losses if they did not change the restrictive store opening policies. The draft law will be discussed in the Parliament later this year – and in case of approval – a national referendum is foreseeable.