The country that cancelled its Sabbath
The country that cancelled its Sabbath

Israel has a great deal to learn from the experience of other countries when it comes to liberalising trading hours and allowing shops to open on the Sabbath (Shabbat).

Australia used to be a Christian country with all shops closed on the Christian Sabbath day which, of course, is Sunday.  There was church on Sunday morning. Families spent the day together at the beach, on trips to the country, visiting friends and family or simply being with each other at home.  Sunday was a day of rest.

Pressure from big business planning to open seven days a week to utlize their space more profitably changed the status quo and the laws allowing continuous shopping began despite opposition from the churches, unions and small business.  Arguments for opening seven days a week were the same as those put forward in Israel. 

The results can be seen years later.  Big business has been the beneficiary at the expense of small business with the large supermarkets and chains booming on Sundays and other days becoming rather quiet.  There has also been an extension of trading hours to some evenings.   Large chains have swallowed up many small shops and have effectively taken the income of the struggling small business person: the corner shop, the convenience store. These stores hardly exist now, and when they do they are mostly run as franchises forcing owners to work long hard hours for no additional financial benefit. Exhausted owners are away from home from 6 am until 9 pm seven days a week, with their wives often working in the business for nothing or for low wages just to keep the store open so not to lose their investment.

Who is employed in these franchises?  Australia has a migrant class, many international students and illegal migrants who are mostly not Christian.  They are the ones prepared to work at very low wages, lower than the legal rate despite union and government attempts to stop that practice.   The physical demands of the long hours, the cost of staying open seven days a week and the reduced income has forced many small business owners into bankruptcy, thereby losing their income and their homes.  The quandary facing most of them is whether to either work seven days a week and employ illegal migrants at a low wage, which is actually exploitation, or lose everything.  Even then, many of these businesses are barely profitable as the competition of large business eats them alive.   

The result ha been empty shops which used to sustain families in all Australia’s cities, no day of rest and a shift of the retail dollar into the pockets of the shareholders of large conglomerates.
Large shopping malls are open seven days a week.  Staff who refuse to take a Sunday shift or who demand legal wages often find themselves without a job.  There is also a large turnover of businesses in many of these malls, which continuously expand and demand sky-rocketing rents from tenants. 

The result ha been empty shops which used to sustain families in all Australia’s cities, no day of rest and a shift of the retail dollar into the pockets of the shareholders of large conglomerates.

Israel will be no different if trading on Shabbat is allowed.  Selfish people with their own agenda may protest loudly that they need to purchase something when it suits them while refusing to plan their purchases in advance.  They do not understand that large retail companies hire less workers per square meter and will find ways to either force Shabbat employment or import foreign workers. Job security for Jewish workers in this sector will be at risk.

Whole sectors of industry are being challenged all over the world.  Manufacturing is moving offshore.  Internet purchases are beginning to eat into the bricks and mortar retail sector, first and foremost the small Mom and Dad convenience stores.  Globalization is already overtaking the Israeli economy as the Teva experience has shown.

Allowing Israelis to lose their jobs when seeking convenience of shopping would be a huge mistake. 

The quality of life is the main ingredient in this debate.  We call it Shabbat.