International News - Metro thrashes out deal on new hours with unions

Germany's biggest retailer, Metro, is preparing to enter talks with unions ahead of the extension of retail opening hours in June.

Last week, the German Bundestag passed legislation that will allow German shops to open from 6.30am to 8pm on Saturdays, rather than closing at 4pm.

A spokesman for Metro welcomed the changes, which will come into effect on June 1. He said the DIY-to-hypermarkets group must prepare to discuss the details of new employee contracts with Ver.di, the union that represents many German retail workers.

The talks will centre on whether the extension should be treated as part of the normal working day, or if workers should be paid bonus time.

Metro's spokesman said the group hopes for further legislation that will lead to a liberalisation of opening hours during the week.

He said: 'If people have more time to shop around, it means they will feel better about shopping and be more likely to spend more money. Most German people prefer that we don't have a closing hour law.'

The new legislation includes a rule guaranteeing workers one Saturday off a month.

Sunday opening is still prohibited. Until 1996, shops in Germany were required to close at 2pm on Saturday under a law laid down in 1956.

Left wing MPs have argued that the extension will hurt smaller businesses that cannot afford to hire staff to work long hours at weekends.