International News - Trading hours struggle sucks in German stores

Germany's economy minister Wolfgang Clement has recommended scrapping a notorious law on shop opening hours, amid concerns about the nation's growth outlook.

At present, stores can only stay open until 8pm on Monday to Saturday, and must close on Sundays.

The minister wants to allow 24-hour shopping from Monday to Saturday, and to give Germany's federal states the right to decide whether to allow store Sunday trading.

Trade unions are furious at the proposals. 'The initiative smacks of populist actionism,' said public sector union Ver.di in a statement. 'Consumers don't need more time to go shopping - they need more money.'

Germany's Ladenschluss-gesetz, or store-closing law, has become a litmus test for economic reform. The unions are fiercely in favour of the ruling, but business leaders are demanding it be scrapped.

The law, dating back to the 1950s, was relaxed in 1996 after years of bitter debate.

Previously, shops had to shut by 6.30pm during the week and by 2pm on Saturdays.

The proposal is part of a package of planned reforms aimed at boosting the economy and cutting bureaucracy. German GDP contracted last year, and the unemployment rate is 11 per cent.

Unions have accused the government of trying to sneak through changes to opening hours with false claims that it will boost the economy.

A government spokesman said the proposals were vital and would be considered for two weeks before a final debate, after which work would begin on a draft bill.