Friday, December 1, 2006

Scrap Quebec's Opening Hours Act!

It was about time that Quebec’s Economic Development minister Raymond Bachand lays a new version of the Opening Hours Act despite the opposition of trade unions and merchants. Nonetheless, Quebecker consumers and particularly job seekers will evidently complain in spite of the slight difference between the original act that came into effect in 1992 and its new version, because it hardly corresponds to the reality of nowadays.

In its original version, a specific set of articles of the Opening Hours Act imposed a limit of four “employees” (pharmacists don’t count) to food stores and pharmacies after five pm on Saturday and Sunday. On the other hand, the new bill project that will be submitted to the weak expertise of Quebec’s deputies at the National Assembly aims to impose a limit of four employees in food stores and pharmacies after eight pm on the same days.

Economic Development minister Raymond Bachand certainly tried to listen to Quebec’s population, but nudging the time of restriction of employees in food stores and pharmacies at eight o’clock in the evening wouldn’t make any difference. Not only people will complain, but it’s also, at the same time a restriction of economic freedom. Not bad for a government that tries to protect fundamental freedoms!

Instead, a bill project that fully “liberalizes” (economically speaking) the notion of the usage of employees in food stores and pharmacies must be introduced in order to fit with reality. Many people will say that average workers normally end their day at five pm and then they could just go to their local food stores or pharmacies. Unfortunately, most parents have the difficulty to harmoniously align their personal schedule with that of their children. As a matter of fact, that explains why most parents decide to go to food stores and pharmacies during the weekend.

However, a few economic studies conducted in Quebec shows us that food stores, in particular, are heavily jam-packed in the evening of Saturday and Sunday. The liberalization of the usage of employees in food stores and pharmacies will give to merchants a margin of manoeuvre in terms of service. In fact, instead of juggling with four employees after the “usual opening hours ”, merchants can use as much as employees as they need to serve the throng of customers.

Obviously, having more employees makes it possible to occupy all the cash desk, for instance, in order to effectively reduce the lines of customers who are waiting to pay. In fact, many Quebecker consumers and merchants have been complaining about the fact that the lines were so big because some food stores were only using two (or even one) cashiers. Raymond Bachand should know that as a result of that pathetic law, many customers had to wait at least twenty minutes before they could pay for their merchandises!

It should also be said that a restriction of employees also overloads them with tasks, which makes it very hard to serve customers who will only be frustrated by a food store employee’s lack of concentration. Furthermore, this law doesn’t help the employees to concentrate on one specific assignment at a given time and it often force them to take into their hands an amount of tasks that doesn’t fit with their competence. As far as we know, human beings are not machines…

The liberalization of the usage of employees in Quebec’s food stores and pharmacies will certainly satisfy job seekers. The Opening Hours Act contributes, in a certain way, into creating unemployment among young students. Since some students can’t work during the week, the disengagement of Quebec’s government towards food stores and pharmacies will allow many motivated young students to find a job more easily in order to pay for their studies and build their financial autonomy. In short, the abolition of the Opening Hours Act will somewhat diminish Quebec’s unemployment rate, because whether we like it or not, the government can’t force students to stay at home!

Even though the Opening Hour Acts was meant to provide a fair playing field to convenience stores against food stores and pharmacies, all facts of life tend to demonstrate the irrelevance of this law that came into effect in 1992. According to one of La Presse’s columnists Nathalie Collard, this explains why some merchants prefer to bend the law and expose themselves to a fine of $1500 (it’s $3000 if it’s a subsequent offence), because the Quebecker government doesn’t send enough inspectors.

If the objective of a government is to defend freedom, its members must understand that the first power’s disengagement towards the amount of employees that is used in food stores and pharmacies will be a sign of respect towards people’s willingness to contribute to the economic development. Motivation can only be here if the government finds a balanced way to encourage the “workfare”, as American economist Milton Friedman said it. In short, the Opening Hours Act is only a ridiculous policy that discourages people from working.

What are our elected deputies in Quebec are waiting for to demolish the Opening Hours Act once and for all? Well, we’re still left in front of a mystery for the moment. The demolition of this act should be made if owners of food stores and pharmacies find some compromises that can be made. Up to now, the puck, as we say it in hockey, is visibly on Quebec’s Economic Development minister Raymond Bachand’s side.

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