Row regarding shop opening hours ends up in court
CROATIA - Following several months of public confrontation between the Ministry of Labour and Parliament over the opening hours of retail shops, the case was finally heard by the Supreme Court on 11 February 2016, which has deferred judgement, pledging to deliver its ruling soon due to the “urgent nature” of the matter. The issue heard by the Court pertains to a standoff between the legislature and the executive over who has the final say in matters relating to retail trade regulations. The issue of particular significance to labour standards as the long hours of operation of retail shops has led, at best, to long working hours for the existing shop employees, often without overtime pay and to the hiring of new part-time and low-paid employees, reflecting the realities of high unemployment.
The Ministry of Labour wants a liberal working hour schedule for shops, including the right to stay open on Sundays, which the opposition parties claim benefits large chains, but is slowly squeezing out small businesses which cannot afford to stay open as long. The Ministry is seeking a ruling against a Parliament decision, dated 10 December 2015, rejecting the regulations tabled by the government on shop opening hours as “violating the principle of separation of powers and is invalid”. It is also asking for a judgement to reinstate the rejected regulations which kept shops open on Sundays and till late at night on weekdays for over a year immediately.
The Attorney General, who appeared in Court on behalf of the government, argued that the case at hand does not pertain to Parliament’s broader right to approve, amend or reject regulations, but rather its right to interfere with “a purely administrative process regulating matters falling under the scope of the exclusive authority of the executive.” He was referring to the government’s sole prerogative to regulate shop hours, based on a separate Supreme Court ruling in December, which found that a related Parliament law passed in May 2015 was unconstitutional.
On behalf of Parliament, the former Attorney General argued that the State’s authority to regulate shop hours is not vested in the Constitution, but in a law which contains exceptions. He contended that it is not the separation of powers that is at stake but rather Article 54(g) of the Constitution, according to which the issuing of regulations is an executive authority, but not in every case. Under Article 54(g) of the Constitution, the Council of Ministers can exercise executive power in all other matters other than those which, under the express provisions of this Constitution, are within the competence of a Communal Chamber, including the making of any order or regulation for the carrying into effect of any law. The former Attorney General argued that it is inconceivable that Parliament’s rejection of regulations be deemed a violation of the principle of separation of powers, since Parliament has the power to accept or reject any regulations put before it.
At the time of writing, the Court’s ruling had not yet been delivered.