Statement by Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons

Mr Speaker, I am pleased to introduce the Public Holidays Amendment Act 2013, which proposes amendments to the Public Holidays Bill 1947. The proposal is not complicated. Quite simply, the amendments will allow retail stores of all kinds and sizes to open on Sundays and other public holidays with the exception of Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

Mr Speaker, the Bermuda retail sector is a vital component in our economic mix. According to the last data available from the Department of Statistics there are approximately 3,000 people employed in the retail industry, not to mention the jobs supported in ancillary industries from dock workers, tradesmen, professional services and banking.

The Ministry of Economic Development has received strong representation from the retail division of the Chamber of Commerce, on the need for stimulus and extended shopping hours. Providing extra hours for customers to shop will meet the need of tourists who enjoy exploring what Bermuda has to offer at their leisure and will also meet the expectation of the resident shopper who seek convenient hours that fit their schedules.

Mr Speaker, liberalisation of the constraints on retailers’ ability to run their business in a modern, professional and progressive manner is not a new request. It is one that I expect will be met with support from the Honourable Members across the floor of this House. There have been several occasions in recent years where, by the negative resolution mechanism, shops have been allowed to open on Sundays and other Public Holidays, when deemed to be in the ‘National Interest’.

Mr Speaker, we are addressing the ‘National Interest’ right now. Our retailers are suffering and our people want to choose when and how they shop. This proposed amendment is designed to specifically stimulate the retail shopping sector and, consequently, the related sectors. It is anticipated that that the proposed amendment will result in increased demand and sales for our local retail stores. It is also anticipated that higher demand will result in new full and part time jobs in the sector.

While it is impossible to tell at this point exactly how many jobs this will create, there will be a need to cover the additional hours of operation by hiring more staff.

For example, according to the Chamber of Commerce, one of the leading retail stores hired 21 more Bermudians for this holiday season to cover anticipated business and the extended opening hours granted in the recent exemption order. If this is what just one of the stores did, we can anticipate a significant number of new full and part time Bermudian jobs in this sector.

Mr Speaker, I should also add that this is not just about creating new jobs. It is also about protecting the jobs of existing workers. Many of Bermuda’s retailers have kept their staff through the darkest of months by being creative in offering split shift options to cover store hours and to avoid layoffs. These extended will help maintain the demand and justification for the staffing levels.

Mr Speaker, the preparation of the Public Holidays Amendment Act 2013 is the outcome of an in-depth consultation process that considered positions of the key stakeholders within the Bermudian economy. Specific consideration has been given to the sentiments expressed by the faith-based sector which makes up a considerable percentage of our population.

We believe the proposal in this amendment strikes a good balance between this sector and the retail industry.

Mr Speaker, the Public Holidays Act 1947 currently discriminates against certain businesses based purely on their size. Shops with a retail floor space exceeding 2,500 square feet are only permitted to open between the hours of 1pm and 6 pm on public holidays which includes Sundays but not Christmas Day and Good Friday, whilst small shops with retail space area of less than 2,500 square feet can operate at any time on a public holiday including Sundays but not Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Mr Speaker, to remove this discrimination the Bill amends section 11 of the principal Act. The proposed amendments will allow all shops, irrespective of their size, to conduct business on certain public holidays.

As per the Act, the schedule of public holidays includes the Sunday in every week, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, May 24, Emancipation Day, Somers Day, National Heroes Day, Remembrance Day, Labour Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Mr Speaker, to be clear, the proposed amendments will allow all shops to open, as they wish, on certain public holidays which includes Sundays. The hours of operation will not be restricted. However, shops will not be allowed to open on three public holidays, Christmas Day, Good Friday and now, with the proposed amendments, shops will not be allowed to open on Easter Sunday.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I wish to thank the Executive Director of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce and the Chairman of the Retail Division for their help in developing these amendments and their ongoing efforts to drive business to local retailers in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Mr Speaker, once again, the community has spoken, we have listened and we have responded.

Mr Speaker, I move that this Bill be referred to Committee.