Discount stores bring fight to Constitutional Court

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Discount stores bring fight to Constitutional Court

The debate over limiting business hours at large discount stores is now being brought to the Constitutional Court, with a petition to nullify retail industry laws filed yesterday in response to a Jeonju City ordinance passed earlier this month.

The Korea Chainstores Association, comprised of 29 discount stores and hypermarkets including E-Mart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart, stated in the petition that the laws and the ordinance setting mandatory days off and restricting business hours violates workers’ rights of occupation.

It also said the laws discriminate against them because they are treated unequally compared to other retailers such as department and convenience stores and Internet malls that are not subject to such restrictions.

“If large discount stores and hypermarkets are required to take two Sundays off a month as it is indicated in the Jeonju City ordinance, they will incur a total loss of 3.4 trillion won [$3 billion] per year,” said an official of the association.

“If large discount stores are closed on some Sundays, it means part-time employees would have fewer jobs.”

Complaints are mounting at large retailers as an increasing number of regions are trying to limit business hours at large discount stores and super supermarkets.

Some critics called it an act of populism as the April 11 legislative elections approach. The Jeonju City Council was the first to pass such an ordinance, and now other regional governments are following suit.

Dangjin, Boryeong and Cheonan, all in South Chungcheong; Chuncheon in Gangwon; and Gunpo and Uiwang, both in Gyeonggi, are also seriously considering passing similar ordinances.

In order to protect traditional markets and workers’ health, the Jeonju City Council decided on Feb. 7 to limit business hours to between 8 a.m. and 12 a.m. From now on, large discount stores and super supermarkets need to close on the second and fourth Sundays of every month. Violations could lead to up to 30 million won in fines.

“Even if large discount stores take two Sundays off, their sales may just drop a little, but it is a life-or-death situation for us,” said an employee of the Korea Food Service Industry Association.

According to a study by the Bank of Korea, large discount stores and super supermarkets expanded throughout the country over the last decade, creating some 200,000 jobs.

The chainstores association said farmers could suffer from a potential loss of sales since fresh produce is sold within one day of the harvests.

“Large discount stores have become the landmarks and shopping and cultural centers in their respective regions,” a discount store employee said. “The restriction not only violates the business rights of discount stores but would also cause inconveniences for consumers.”

The association said it will wait for the Constitutional Court’s decision and take legal actions against the ruling Saenuri Party’s pledges to limit the opening of new discount stores.

By Limb Jae-un [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

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