Compass poll heavily favours Sunday trading

Of more than 500 votes cast in an online poll canvassing Caymanian Compass readers about Sunday trading, only 60 people said businesses should not be allowed to open.

More than 340 voters said every business should be allowed to open, while smaller groups said Sunday trading should be limited either to supermarkets or particular hours.

The poll, conducted during the week of 4 July to 11 July on the Caycompass.com website, produced 503 votes.

Of that total, 342, or 68 percent, favoured making Sunday a full-trading day for any business that cared to open.

Another 57 votes, or 11.3 percent, were cast in favour of general Sunday openings, but only during certain hours.

Finally, 44 votes, or 8.7 percent, favour restricting Sunday trading to supermarkets.

An overall assessment of the poll makes it clear that 443 votes, representing 88 percent of the total, favour Sunday trading in some form

Still, however, the second-highest number of votes, 60, or 11.9 percent of the total, would like to see current restrictions maintained on Sunday trading.

The issue has long divided the community, generating occasionally heated discussion. The original Sunday Trading Law was enacted in 1960, and was amended throughout the years, often expanding the categories of commercial premises exempted from the law, the hours during which they could trade and the type of goods they could sell.

The most recent amendment was in 2002, in which cinemas were permitted to open between the hours of 2pm and 9pm if they showed films suitable for children. The change brought to 21 the types of businesses allowed to remain open on Sundays.

Among the leading opponents of Sunday trading is the Cayman Ministers’ Association. Al Ebanks, is the head of the group and pastor at the Agape Family Worship Centre. He believes any decision about Sunday trading must take onto account the history of the law, its effects on the family and community, and the price that will be paid for embracing a consumer society.

‘I don’t have any problem looking at the laws again. A number of folks are concerned about the sense of unfairness. We are concerned that families have the opportunity to spend weekends together. We have to weigh the costs and benefits,’ he says.

Mr. Ebanks says the original trading law was created in 1834 by Cayman’s first home government. Neither the UK nor Jamaica, of which Cayman was a part, recognized the government — or the law — for 30 years, but the community sought to codify Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

‘It was a different mindset than today, but I believe it’s a proper consideration. If you travel to places different than ours, say Israel, for instance, they have the Sabbath in which very little is taking place. In Canada, a lot of places shut down for a half-day on Saturday right through to Monday.

‘It’s not necessarily just for religious reasons, but for the good of the family and the community,’ he says.

‘If it’s a good law, it should be good for everybody, for the community as a whole.’

Mr. Ebanks points out that many expatriates, who form almost half Cayman’s population, provide support for families elsewhere. The motives of that segment of the expatriate population are purely economic and they would work every day if able.

‘They are here for one reason only, and if things don’t work out or something goes wrong, they can leave. I don’t happen to feel that way and I would say that society should not change its laws for those people.’

On the other side of the question is popular local businessman Woody Foster, managing director of Foster’s Food Fair-IGA.

Mr. Foster was permitted to remain open on Sundays after Hurricane Ivan destroyed hundreds of homes in September, stranding many families without kitchens, refrigeration or cooking facilities, and while the island was under curfew.

The three Foster’s supermarkets remained open on Sundays through March, when store officials decided Cayman had recovered sufficiently. As of April, the markets operate only six days.

Mr. Foster said at the time he would seek to change the Sunday-trading laws, but would respect them until such time came.

‘As a company, we are in favour of Sunday trading,’ Mr. Foster said. ‘I think it’s time for the law to change.

‘It would take the public to approach the politicians., though They’ll do it if the public wants it, but if there’s no public support they won’t do it if they think it will hurt them.’

Following the late-March decision to close on Sundays, Mr. Foster launched a petition in the supermarkets to gauge sentiment around the trading issue.

‘We collected 7,600 signatures in one month,’ he said. ‘We told the politicians that, all right, look, we have this, we have these results, but it was just before the [11 May] elections, and they didn’t do anything with it.’

Subsequently, he said, Cayman’s new Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts told him to wait before doing anything about the petition.

He was still waiting, Mr. Foster said.

‘It’s not something that’s vital for the business to survive. We do not have a burning need for this. But we have it, and it’s nice to know that the Compass poll is behind us.’

In April, the Chamber of Commerce launched its own Sunday-trading poll, canvassing its 675 corporate members and 40 individual and associate members.

As he launched the survey, chamber Chief Executive Officer Wil Pineau said Cayman’s strong Christian culture would be a critical element in any vote, and that businessmen would weigh the availability of local staff, the depth of support for a seven-day week by both owners and employees and whether the move would raise costs.

Mr. Pineau said the chamber poll would not be completed until the end of July, however, and declined to say if any trends could be discerned.

Repeated attempts during several days to contact Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts were unsuccessful, but Cayman political figures have consistently been shy about committing themselves to a position on Sunday trading.

The subject is so delicate, and opinion so volatile that most appear to prefer to wait for a groundswell of opinion to make itself apparent, much as described by Mr. Forster.

During campaigning for the 11 May elections, all four candidates — two from the UDP and two from the PPM — at a 4 April forum, called for a review of the laws, but stopped short of calling for a change.

‘It’s very controversial,’ said PPM representative Charles Clifford, who pointed out that supermarkets were not allowed to open, but gas stations were.

‘It needs to be cleared up,’ he said. Sundays were sacred and should be observed, but the question of Sunday openings should ‘go to consultation’.

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