The business minister has rejected calls to ban stores from opening on Boxing Day, dismissing the idea that the UK has become “obsessed with shopping”.
The issue was debated in Westminster Hall on Monday, after a petition to close stores on the day after Christmas gained more than 140,000 signatures.
Labour MP Helen Jones, who led the debate, said Boxing Day should be a “day of rest” and “poorly paid retail workers are being exploited to fuel a national obsession”.
She added: “I can shop with the best of them, but if my shopping on Boxing Day is being done at the expense of the lowest paid workers in the community, something has to give.”
However, the government stood firm behind its stance that it will not tell retailers “how to run their shops or how best to serve their customers”.
Business minister Margot James said the current rules struck the right balance between employers and protecting workers’ rights.
She said the government recognised the importance of the retail sector to local and national economics. “An estimated £3.7bn was spent on Boxing Day last year, around 22% of which was online,” she pointed out.
“If we were to ban the opening of high street outlets on Boxing Day we would see a significant loss of business from the high street to online, which would particularly disadvantage retailers without a strong online presence.”
Her arguments were supported by other Conservative MPs present at the debate, including Philip Hollobone and Andrea Jenkyns.
Hollobone said he felt sympathy for any retail workers forced to work on Boxing Day against their wishes, but added: “Whether physical shops are closed or not, there will always be internet shopping available.”
He suggested the solution would be for the government to re-enact the relevant legislation to make it clear that no-one should be required to work on Boxing Day, “to give it an element of statutory protection”.
There are currently no controls on retailers’ opening hours on Boxing Day unless it falls on a Sunday, when large stores of more than 3,000 sq ft are limited to six continuous hours of trading between 10am and 6pm.