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Alois Riedlsperger SJ {*}

Time for Welfare


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 3/2012, P. 145 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


Today, many people complain of having no time. Everything has to happen more quickly - and if possible simultaneously! Nothing seems to be postponable. On Monday evening you stay longer in the office, on Tuesday you cancel the lunch break, on Wednesday you take the children to the doctor ... on Saturday evening you just want to have a quick shopping, and on Sunday you answer e-mails. There is never an 'enough!': neither in gainful work nor in the endless flood of information, neither in lifelong learning nor in the labor market where it is necessary to remain competitive. Living and working lose their balance. Where is still time for what is important for your humanity: relationships, children, friendships, experience nature, time for yourself, for reflection, prayer? Where is the time yet to say 'Let's call it a day', and to breathe a sigh of relief?

In a flexible capitalism, economy and society are determined by the trend to production and consumption around the clock. Due to the dissolution of the classical normal employment the boundaries between paid work and leisure become indistinct. Those who want a job have to be ready for work overtime and a flexible schedule. The main reason for this is the globally networked economy. A central factor in it is the acceleration caused by the electronic media. The global economy does never rests. The counterpart to gainful work is consumerism. The abundance of leisure and consumption opportunities is increasing, the leisure industry continuously stages events. What matters are no longer mere facilities for shopping, "shopping" rather means designed shopping worlds and events.

But even in prosperous countries a growing number of people are excluded from gainful employment as well as from consumption, because the opportunity to decide freely what to do with one's time is unequally distributed. Those who live in the condition of "precarity" have to spend increasingly more time in their life in order to get a share in material prosperity. Unsocial working hours such as night, weekend and Sunday work are unequally distributed. Women bear the temporal burdens resulting from work and family.

Studies about the working environment reveal a frightening increase in psychiatric disorders due to the increasing acceleration. What is missing are the regular opportunities for relaxing. But in June 2011 a conference of experts in the Economic and Social Committee of the EU in Brussels has shown that free time and rest periods are not arbitrarily shiftable. The individual and collective rhythm of life is a matter of health. It is therefore the aim of the European Sunday Alliance to entrench both Sunday rest and reasonable working hours in a new working time directive. This alliance was founded on 20 June 2011 in Brussels by more than 60 organizations and is a broad coalition of unions, churches and civil society on the basis of ten alliances and initiatives.



While in Italy at the beginning of 2012 the government Monti has completely liberalized the shop-opening hours, an opposite trend is noticeable in Eastern Europe: in Poland in 2008 an alliance for the free Sunday was founded with significant participation of the Polish trade union Solidarnosc. There are now 14 commercially free Sundays. In Slovakia and Croatia, too, Sunday alliances and initiatives have been set up.

In Germany in 2006 the legislative competence as regards laws that regulate the hours of trading was delegated from the federal government to state governments. With the exception of Bavaria and Saarland, new provisions on shop opening hours were enacted. The Protestant and the Catholic Church took legal action against them at the Federal Constitutional Court. On 1st December 2009 it decided that the Berlin Shop Opening Hours Act is not in accordance with the Basic Law and has to be amended.

Hannes Kreller (KAB Germany and German Sunday Alliance) points to two aspects of this decision: In the fact that Sundays and holidays impose limits on a profit-oriented economy, and serve the people for their own sake, the constitutional judges see a connection with the highest constitutional principle: human dignity. On the other hand, Sunday opening hours in the retail sector must be in the public interest. According to the Federal Constitutional Court, a mere "shopping interest" of customers or an economic interest of traders does not justify Sunday shopping. In Germany, Sunday Alliances are currently active in Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony, and in over 80 municipalities.

According to Hannes Kreller, the Alliance for the free Sunday in Austria was the blueprint for the foundation of an alliance in Germany. The Austrian alliance was already founded on 3rd October 2001 and celebrated on 18 October 2011 its tenth anniversary in the Parliament in Vienna. Responsible for coordinating this broad-based alliance of organizations from churches, trade unions and civil society is the Catholic Social Academy of Austria (ksoe). It has also coordinated the project of the Social Mission Statement of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria (2003). The commitment to a work-free Sunday is regarded as an important task of the churches in society.

The central concern of the movement for the free Sunday is time for welfare and quality of life. Instead of a round-the-clock society, regular interruptions and synchronized time outs are a matter of course. Such shared time is conducive to health and ensures that as many people as possible have for each other and for themselves reliable time, which needn't be negotiated individually. The free Sunday strengthens thus the social cohesion. Exceptions to the Sunday rest are necessary and justifiable: e.g. in the areas of health care, nursing, transportation and security. Everybody who works on Sunday for other people deserves appreciation and appropriate reward.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'