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THE HOYOS FILE: Shops Act releases retailers’ handcuffs


THE HOYOS FILE: Shops Act releases retailers’ handcuffs

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I WAS AT THE Barbados Chamber of Commerce luncheon listening to Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley not make a speech on the day the new Shops Act was “debated” in Parliament.

So I didn’t hear the MPs explain, in their usual simple, clear and forthright way, what the new Shops Act was all about. But from my “investigations” last week, the new act is really all about paying less in overtime or time-and-a-half rates to employees, because it allows for the latter to be rostered on a 24/7 basis including almost all public holidays.

Of course, while this is what the result would be, the act has to lay the groundwork properly, and this is why it talks about standardising the opening hours for retail shops, basically bringing them up to par with other types of businesses which already open to the public on the same basis. Here’s part of the official Government Information Service (GIS) press release of January 12 on the new act: “According to the Chief Labour Officer Vincent Burnett, under this new piece of legislation, shops which are subject to opening hours can now remain open for business from seven a.m. on Mondays, continuously through to 10 p.m. on Sundays. The closing hours for these shops are between 10 p.m. on Sundays and seven a.m. on Mondays.”

So, the official line seems to be that it’s all about opening hours. But right now many retail stores open later into the evening if they want to, especially in shopping malls. And they also have to open when those malls open on Sundays at certain times of the year. The reason the continuous opening hours had to be legislated, I was given to understand, is so that overtime or time-and-a-half labour costs stopped popping up. As did the employee’s right to say: “Sorry, I am not working on that Sunday or public holiday.”

Now you can roster your full-time employees to work five out of seven days at normal rates. It’s only after an eight-hour stretch in any one day or the 40-hour maximum per week that overtime or time-and-a-half pay now kicks in. If a public holiday is involved, the employer just has to pay double time, but the employee doesn’t have the right to refuse to work those days, because, adds the GIS release, “The act removes general public holidays from being ‘closed days’, with the exception of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and Independence Day.”

But even on those days, notes the GIS, “According to the act, the Chief Labour Officer may grant permission on application for the opening of shops on closed days.” And on top of that, the legislation removes the “cruise ship” requirement and the four-and-a-half hour restriction on closed day opening. Abolishing the requirement for permission to open specially for cruise ships (on Sundays and public holidays), and then only being able to do so for half a work day, finally allows the retail sector, especially in Bridgetown, to respond as they see fit to the arrival of cruise ships in port.

Hopefully, the days of cruise ship passengers walking through a firmly shut up capital city will become a thing of the past. Perhaps it will also lead to Bridgetown staying open till eight or nine some evenings, with shuttle services to take shoppers from Broad Street to their cars parked on the fringes of The City. But in general, the new Shops Act finally allows retailers to operate on the same basis as restaurants, arcades and convenience stores as we move to a 24/7 service economy. Isn’t it about time?

Noteworthy: Bridgetown gets “lucky”

Bridgetown, our historic capital city, has had its ups and downs over the past 20 or more years. But in recent times, businesses have been renewing their commitment to The City, perhaps most notably, Bridgetown’s flagship store, Cave Shepherd & Co. Ltd., which was also been undergoing major renovations. Some people might say it’s time Bridgetown had some more good luck, and it has indeed come the town’s way, with Lucky Horseshoe Saloon & Steakhouse, the popular home-grown 24/7 arcade and restaurant chain, planning to open its fourth outlet at City Centre this summer.

Chief executive officer Paul Johnson told me that when the idea of taking over the space formally occuped by a supermarket in that shopping and multi-storey parking facility was first brought up, he wasn’t really interested. But he did go to take a look and says: “I was really pleasantly surprised at how nice the whole area looked, the quality of the consumer that was walking around, the amount of businesses in Lower Broad Street, the fact that it was convenient parking, and all of a sudden, I started to get very excited.”

A deal was made with the City Centre management group, he says, “and now we’re planning the next step and hopefully by summer we’ll be open.” Johnson says commerce in Bridgetown seems to be picking up as more places open and all of the efforts to revitalise it come together, and he believes the new Shops Act would also play a big role in the town’s comeback.

“Right at this point, obviously, we’ll be concentrating on a lunchtime trade, but we’re hoping that the Shops Act will generate more shopping in the evening and we’ll get more business.”

Currently, there are three Lucky Horsehoe locations, the original one at Worthing, Christ Church, the second at Warrens Shopping Centre, and the third at Bagatelle, which opened ten years ago.