Work-Free Sunday and Decent Working Hours in Europe: Which way forward?

18 FEBRUARY 2019, BRUSSELS, BELGIUM- On Monday, the World Youth Alliance Europe (WYAE) participated in the European Sunday Alliance (ESA)’s annual networking event with its members and supporters on “Work-Free Sunday and Decent Working Hours in Europe: Which way forward?” at the European Parliament, Brussels.

The purpose of the dialogue meeting was to raise awareness on a good work-life balance before the upcoming elections and to clarify the importance of work-free Sundays.

The event was organized by Members of European Parliament (MEPs) Thomas MANN (EPP) and Evelyn REGNER (S&D), moderated by Nicola SPERANZA (Secretary General of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations). The MEPs and the National Sunday Alliances, representatives of labour unions, representatives of Churches and youth organisations all had a common goal: to launch a free Sunday. Markus BLÜMEL (Austrian Sunday Alliance) introduced Austrian’s current position. Before the law amendment 01.09.2018, working on Sunday was strictly limited and after the law amendment, the recent Sunday working time act in Austria states that Sunday a twelve-hour workday. Fr. Boze VULETA (Croatian Sunday Alliance) outlined the clear situation in Croatia on abuse of student work, general low salary, migration work, unpaid overwork and finally, work on Sunday and holidays working times. Marijana PETIR (EPP) affirmed that the 24-hour opening hours of shops is unnecessary and unhealthy. She added that trade should never be more important than the time spent with our family. Gabriele BISCHOFF (candidate for S&D and President of the Workers’ Group of the EESC) highlighted the importance of the family time and the danger of using smart devices during work-free days.

Francesco Carboni (WYAE’s Regional Director of Advocacy) mentioned the youth’s requests for quality education and quality jobs, as expressed by the Youth Policy 2020 drafted by WYA’s members during the recent Lisbon Strategy Project (Lisbon, 14-16 February 2019). He also mentioned the need to have a correct regulation on e-commerce companies, for those not to harm small and middle enterprises.

All the invited participants emphasized the importance and uniqueness of Sundays in Europe. They stressed that a free day should be independent from politics and economy.  Sunday must be a fixed day when the families and friends can meet and rest: a common free time, even though being aware that some occupations – due to their ratio – are needed 24/7 (inter alia, health services, public security, etc.)

In the European Union, the standard working days are usually Monday to Friday. Working-time on Sundays has traditionally been influenced by culture, religion, economy and politics. The annual ESA event is important because it provides a place and time for the stakeholders to gather and think together about the next steps in the future.

The World Youth Alliance believes that working conditions are important because they affect individuals and families. Work represents an important part of a dignified life, nevertheless, an excessive extension of working hours doesn’t help families to spend time together and recharge.