A petition authored by Jack Johnson has 137,000 signatures asserting that Boxing Day should be family time for all workers, including those in retail positions. As reported by the International Business Times, many believe shops should be banned from opening on the holiday. That way, retail workers could enjoy time with their loved ones too.
This year, many U.S. retailers bucked “tradition” by refusing to open on Thanksgiving, a major American holiday. While being closed on the holiday used to be the norm, Black Friday sales efforts pushed their way into the Thursday holiday years ago. And this left retail employees working while others spent time with friends and family.
While the approach is different in the U.S., the sentiment is the same. But is it the government’s place to control when retailers are open for business? That is the question.
Current Operating Restrictions for Shops
There are rules regarding shop operations within the UK. Retailers over 280 square metres are required to close on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. Failure to follow the rules can lead the government to levy significant fines. Smaller businesses are not subject to the current restrictions.
The Argument for Closure
The primary argument for required closures is that retail employees should have access to family time and relaxation during the holidays. Often, the pre-Christmas shopping period is stressful for retail workers and requires longer hours on the job. Crowds are vast, and customers may become impatient, or even hostile, with low-wage workers trying to serve those who have come to buy. Having Christmas and Boxing Day off gave them a reprieve, and an opportunity to recharge.
Competition for shoppers has changed the face of retail. Businesses began opening early than prior years to reach more customers. And, by deciding to open, employees must be available. Accusations of greed on the part of retailers are often thrown in as the believed source of the change.
The Change of a Tradition
While some of the origins of Boxing Day have been debated, as reported by Time, is has been recognized as a holiday since 1871. Many businesses kept their doors closed in recognition, and the day is still considered a Bank Holiday.
However, the trend towards Boxing Day sales began during the 1980s. The practice gained more traction after the financial crisis that began in 2008. Shops looked for a way to boost sales, and customers were focused on finding deals with increased fervor.
Now, as reported by the BBC, it is a popular day to return or exchange unwanted gifts. That gives shops incentive to seize a chance to increase sales.
The Point of Conflict
Having the day off for Boxing Day is a major boost to employee morale. While businesses outside of the retail sector often observe the holiday accordingly, retailers can’t ignore the day’s profit potential. And, if a retailer chooses to close while others open, then their competition makes additional gains based on that decision.
That puts those who work in retail shops in the crossfire. It is especially difficult to reconcile when other family members, including spouses and children, generally have the day off while retail employers need to focus on the bottom line.
While the outcome of the petition will not be known for some weeks, expect the topic to be hotly debated until it is.