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LIFE IN SPAIN

Why is everything in Spain closed on Sundays?

Anyone who's lived or holidayed in Spain will have noticed that many shops and businesses close on Sundays. But is that just a reflection of the laid-back lifestyle, as many assume, or are there other reasons? And what impact does this have on the Spanish economy and society?

Why is everything in Spain closed on Sundays?
Many foreigners in Spain find it incovenient that most shops close on a Sunday. But what's behind this tradition? (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Take a stroll through any small or medium-sized Spanish town on a Sunday, and you’ll notice that the majority of its high-street shops and businesses are shuttered up. Even in bigger cities, many still close on Sunday.

Often people assume that the Sunday closures are a reflection of Spain’s laidback lifestyle, and that Spaniards still see Sundays as a day of rest. While it is true that most Spaniards do still use Sundays to relax, eat, and spend time with family, it’s not entirely that simple.

Others assume it’s a legacy of Spain’s Catholic culture, and that everyone’s at mass, but that’s become less and less true in recent decades, and the reality is that Spain’s Sunday trading laws are often the reason behind the closures, depending on where you are.

READ MORE: Spanish habits that foreigners just don’t get 

Sunday Trading

Sunday trading laws are not unique to Spain. Many countries around the world place limits on which, how, for how long, and how often shops and businesses can open on Sundays.

But many countries across Europe, like Portugal, Italy, and the U.K, have more liberal trading hours legislation. In fact, the European Commission ranked Spain as the country with the second highest number of restrictions on commercial trade in the EU.

A map of which countries where large supermarkets are generally open on non-holiday Sundays. Green: Large supermarkets and shopping centers are generally open on Sundays. Blue: Large supermarkets are allowed to be open for 6 hours or less on Sundays. Red: Large supermarkets are generally closed on Sundays. Map: Imre Kristoffer Eilertsen/Wikipedia (CC BY 4.0)

Spain’s law

First things first, as with many policies in Spain, Sunday trading legislation is delegated to the autonomous communities. Article 1 of Law 1/2004, which outlines rules on business hours more broadly, gives businesses the liberty to determine the days and times of their commercial activity, however it must work within the framework of the law and the rules of the autonomous community.

That is to say, each regional government has the final say on its Sunday opening hours, and in many parts of Spain Sunday opening is allowed once a month – normally at the beginning of the month – and on Sundays during special shopping seasons like Christmas and Easter, but also during sales periods.

This means that many businesses aren’t able to open on Sundays, even if they wanted to. Certain sectors, however, like hospitality, can open without restrictions, as can pharmacies. According to the law, the businesses free to open as and when they please are: 

  •  Hospitality establishments and bakeries
  •  Petrol stations
  •  Florists
  • Shops at transport stations
  • Smaller convenience stores, provided that they meet the criteria set out in the law

In a strange quirk on Spanish legislation, commercial establishments smaller than 300 square metres have total freedom of trading schedules across Spain, regardless of what is says on their regional statute book.

Tourist areas

Tourist areas are often given exceptions to deal with demand. Shops in towns and areas declared as tourist-based are allowed to open every Sunday. That grouping, as of a few years ago, includes:

  • Downtown Madrid
  • Valencia municipality 
  • Zaragoza 
  • Downtown Palma de Mallorca 
  • Most of the Catalan coastal with the exception of Barcelona
  • Most of the Murcia’s coastal area
  • The Andalusian and Valencian coastal areas

Equally, any area with a World Heritage Site or property of cultural or national interest is allowed to open, as are shops close to ports on tourist cruise routes, and areas whose main attraction is shopping tourism.

A woman walks past a closed shop in Madrid. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

READ MORE: Are Spaniards really that bad at queueing? 

Community rules

Businesses that are not included in the exempted sectors outlined in national law, as above, must abide by the trading calendar outlined every year by their regional government. This means there’s quite a bit of variation in Sunday trading laws around Spain. In Madrid, for example, all businesses have been able to open, if they wish, for 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, since 2021.

Compare that with the stricter restrictions in Basque Country, for example, where no big business can open on Sundays, nor holidays, and are often closed on Saturday afternoons too.

Generally speaking, the number of Sundays autonomous communities can play with is sixteen spread throughout the calendar years. However, based on each region’s unique economic circumstances, the number of authorised Sunday openings can be tinkered with, whether by increasing or decreasing it. You can usually find your region’s Sunday opening scheduled for the whole year online.

The economic impact

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown sparked debate about the economic consequences of Spain’s Sunday trading laws. Business groups called on the government to relax some of the restrictions when faced with financial annihilation, and requested freedom to open when they please, as was allowed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. 

With many businesses having closed their doors for the last time during the pandemic, allowing more economic freedom to trade on Sundays is seen as a way of recouping the significant losses many endured during the lockdown.

It would also perhaps be a way to boost employment, although many smaller businesses claim they can’t open on Sundays because they can’t afford to hire new staff or pay their existing workers more money. Smaller businesses and self-employed unions are often at loggerheads over Sunday trading laws with bigger companies and corporations, represented by The National Association of Large Distribution Companies (Anged), with regards to competition and the pros and cons of more liberal trading hours.

Member comments

  1. I don’t understand why any restrictions should be placed on Sunday openings & this article doesn’t provide the reasons. It only explains that it’s a regulation and nothing about the reasoning behind it.
    Surely it should be a decision for the business owners whether or not they want to open on Sun. It’s not harming anyone & nobody is being forced to open if it doesn’t suit. I’d love to see more shops open on Sundays same as other countries.

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WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.




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