Will shops be open on Boxing Day?

Sarah Coles
Shops will stay open on Boxing Day
Shops will stay open on Boxing Day

Two petitions to ban shops from opening on Boxing Day have reached more than 300,000 signatures between them. The more popular one was posted on Change.org, so the fact that more than 200,000 people have signed it means it will be delivered to Theresa May. The other was posted on the Government's own website, and the fact it has reached more than 100,000 signatures means it will be considered for debate. Ultimately, though, they will fail.

Read more: New petition calls for shops to shut on Boxing Day

One petition was posted online by Ian Lapworth, who called on Theresa May to ban opening on Boxing Day. He argued that: "We managed 30 and 40 years ago...when shops were sometimes shut for a whole week. Let's get back to the way it was. Forget making money for one day, let's concentrate on making more memories with the ones we love."

It's a very lovely sentiment - and has had a great response from a large number of retail workers, who have left messages of support. Many said they missed out on family traditions, and longed for things to go back to the way they were.

See also: Are you off to the Boxing Day sales?

Set for failure

Unfortunately for them, this is highly unlikely to happen any time soon. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has been campaigning for more shops to close on Boxing Day for years - and over that time has seen more and more shops choose to open on the day.

The government is unlikely to legislate against this. The Boxing Day sales have become a huge and popular tradition, and part of Christmas for many families. It would take a politician who is either very brave or very foolish to stop people from doing something they love - and to stop businesses from making money from it.

A similar petition sprung up last year, and the government responded then that it was up to the shops to decide when to open.

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Is this such a bad thing?

Clearly if you work in retail and have a family that you want to be with over the festive period, then being forced to work on Boxing Day is miserable. However, there are five good reasons why the government should be keeping out of this particular argument.

1. There are plenty of people who are perfectly happy working over the Christmas period. Whether they don't celebrate, their loved ones are somewhere else around the world, they are divorced parents having a Christmas apart from their children, or even if they have a large family round for a few days and they could do with some time away from full-on-celebrations, they might actually appreciate the opportunity to go to work instead.

2. If there aren't enough people to work over Christmas at a particular store, it doesn't have to open. The British Retail Consortium has been very clear about this. Stores are not compelled to open for business on Boxing Day, and many family-run businesses choose not to - without the intervention of Theresa May.

3. If your employer is being unreasonable, then this is not a government issue - it's a problem with your employer. The BRC says that stores that choose to stay open usually offer flexible shift patterns to ensure time off is fairly split between staff who don't want to work at this time of year.

If your employer is strong-arming you to work every Boxing Day against your wish - and this wasn't something you originally signed up to when you joined the company - this is a matter for your union (and if you don't have a union, a meeting with the HR department). There will always be employers who push their employees around on this issue - and for many how their employer treats them over Christmas is a deciding factor as to whether they look around for a new job in the new year.

4. If you have to work the occasional Boxing Day, it doesn't have to be the end of the world. There are plenty of other jobs where people have no choice and have to work over the festive period. Everyone from police officers to nurses must take their turn, and aren't petitioning the government to make it stop. It's part and parcel of the industry they chose to go into.

5. It's not just your workplace that needs to be reasonable - your family should be too. When you speak to people in professions where working over Christmas is compulsory, most of them have developed their own traditions to get around it. Nurses on shift on Christmas day might celebrate a day earlier or later. Police officers might have special traditions that kick in early in the morning, or in the evening - before or after their shift. Air stewards and pilots may decide to make a festive holiday with their family out of their need to be at work. Similarly, there's no reason why Boxing Day traditions can't kick off on the 27th... there's bound to be plenty of turkey left.