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Germany’s automated stores forced to rest on Sundays – FT

A court has ruled that retail chain Tegut must comply with centuries-old legislation despite not having human employees

A court in the central German state of Hesse has banned local vending machine chain Tegut from operating on Sundays, citing the country’s century-old law, Financial Times reported on Friday.

A mandatory day off on Sunday was first enshrined in the German Constitution in 1919, and was upheld by the Constitutional Court in 2009. The Sunday ban is currently applied to most businesses in Germany, except restaurants, fuel stations, kiosks and pharmacies.

The highest administrative court of the state ruled that the Swiss-owned supermarket chain must observe ‘Sonntagsruhe’, which in German means Sunday rest, even if no human employees are involved in the commerce process.

The retailer launched its fully automated stores in Hesse in 2021, but was dragged into litigation after Germany’s service sector union Verdi raised issues about labor code violations as soon as the first robotic shop was opened.

The union fundamentally opposes Sunday shopping, claiming that retail staff, who have to contend with highly flexible working hours during the rest of the week, need Sunday as a guaranteed day off to spend time with family and friends. Moreover, it raised concerns over potential “knock-on effects” for workers in traditional stores.

Tegut reportedly owns around 300 traditional supermarkets and 40 fully automated mini-shops.

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“This is entirely grotesque,” the retailer’s management board member Thomas Stab told the newspaper, stressing that small automatic stores were “basically walk-in vending machines” that should not be affected by the ban of the kind.

Sunday sales accounted for up to 30% of the automatic shops’ weekly commerce, according to Stab, who stressed that closing them for the day is economically painful for the company.

Tegut’s automated stores, set into in wooden containers that resemble an oversized barrel with a grass roof, offer around 1,000 daily essential items, including milk, butter, and fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as condoms and pregnancy tests.

Over a dozen of Tegut’s self-service shops will stay open on Sundays in other German states, including Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg, as the latest ruling applies only to Hesse. However, even there, three shops will be open all weekend, since legal loopholes allow them to work near train stations.

 

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