Theresa May has refused calls to force all shops to close on Boxing Day, saying it is not the Government’s job to tell businesses how they should run their shows.
MPs will hold a Westminster Hall debate on a petition with more than 140,000 signatures calling for a ban on all retail premises opening the day after Christmas, on the basis that it exploits low paid workers.
The British Retail Consortium says Boxing Day has been a popular shopping day for years.
UK shoppers spent £3.74 billion in the Boxing Day sales in 2015, according to research from VoucherCodes.co.uk and the Centre for Retail Research – a 6 per cent increase on 2014.
Labour’s Helen Jones, who chairs the Petitions Committee, said the current system of Boxing Day sales exploits lower paid workers and deprives them of time with their families over the festive period.
Ms Jones, who will lead Monday’s debate, said evidence submitted to her committee’s online forum has convinced her that the Government should take action.
She said: “I went from feeling quite indifferent about Boxing Day openings to believing it does exploit very low paid workers, who often have to work late on Christmas Eve to get the shops ready and then have to go in very early on Boxing Day morning.”
Ms Jones said staff faced serious problems with public transport and childcare around Christmas, while additional pay for working these unseasonal hours had all but disappeared across the sector.
The Warrington North MP added: “What I’ve not seen is anything to convince me that Boxing Day generates extra trade, as opposed to just moving it from another day.
“No one died because a shop was shut, and I think we are exercising our freedom to shop whenever we want on the backs of some very low-paid workers, who are being exploited and being denied the freedom to expect to have the time with their families.”
Almost 6,000 comments were submitted to the Petition Committee’s online forum, the vast majority of which backed store closures.
A House of Commons Library report states 365,000 people in the UK retail industry worked on Boxing Day in 2014, which equated to 12% of those employed in the retail sector.
A British Retail Consortium spokeswoman said: “Individual retailers and employers in other sectors such as hospitality will make their own decisions on holiday staffing based on their customers’ needs and preferences.
“Boxing Day has for years been a popular shopping day as customers take advantage of the Christmas sales, and retailers will respond accordingly to cater for customer demand.
“Most retailers offer flexible shift patterns to ensure time off is distributed fairly among those who don’t wish to work throughout the holiday period.”
Responding to the petition, the Government said: “We do not believe it is for central Government to tell businesses how to run their shops or how best to serve their customers.
“Therefore we are not proposing to ban shops from opening on Boxing Day.”