COMECE/SUNDAY ALLIANCE REPORT: On 20 June, some 65 civil society organisations, trade unions and Churches launched the European Sunday Alliance at an event held in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels. In their Founding Statement “Together for decent working hours” the signatories commit to safeguard and promote work-free Sundays and decent working hours throughout Europe. The launch was part of an expert conference on the impact of Sunday work on the health, safety and social integration of workers.
The conference was opened by Luca Jahier, president of Group III (Civil Society) of the EESC and brought to a conclusion by George Dassis, president of Group II (Employees). Jahier emphasized that Europe needs a social model based not only on production and consumption, but also on shared free time for social interaction and societal engagement: “We need time for the collective rituals of society, not only mass occupations like shopping.”
Among the expert speakers were the psychologist Professor Friedhelm Nachreiner, who recently testified in the German Constitutional Court proceedings on Sunday work that resulted in a ban on shop openings on Sundays in that country. He presented the results of numerous studies, proving: “Whatever set of data you look at, whatever aspects you factor in or leave aside, the result is always the same: Any person working on Sundays is negatively affected both in terms of health and safety.” The social scientist Dr Jill Ebrey, who undertakes research on the social value of synchronised free time at weekends for workers, helped finding explanations for these findings: “Saturday and Sunday are not merely the end of the week, but form the weekend – a special time for almost anybody. Its demise causes great distress.” Other aspects covered were the impact of volunteer work and economic pressures on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.
The members of the Alliance demand that both European and national legislation needs to be more protective of workers’ private lives, including the right to shared free time for family, social and civic engagement, and culture. They stress that societies need a collective rhythm, because people are embedded in social structures that are necessary for their well-being and for social cohesion: “Apart from our scientific findings, the political decision comes down to what sort of society we want to live in: a participative society, or a society where more and more people withdraw from interaction – with the negative impacts on democracy this would have,” concludes Professor Nachreiner.
In asserting these rights, the Alliance refutes a purely economically-driven lifestyle, but argues for a better reconciliation of private and professional life. The Alliance urges the EU and Member States to take all legislative and political measures to promote these aims, including working time regulations that respect the right to limited working hours, to weekends and holidays, and collective agreements. It invites other actors to join the Alliance and promote the aims at all political levels.