Once upon a time, not so long ago, Sunday was considered a day of rest. But now, like every other day of the week, it has basically been captured by the demands of commerce. So there is no longer a communal day of rest in a lot of countries. This needs to change. There needs to be a European weekly common day of rest, together with the right to disconnect from work, according to a campaign group called the European Sunday Alliance.

The group held an online conference last week, which saw the participation of MEPs from different European parties, and also a representative of the European Commission. A healthy balance between private life and working time is essential for families, particularly during these difficult times, says the Alliance. They argue that a work-free Sunday has become even more relevant during the pandemic, when most people work remotely. With more time spent in the house working hours have also extended and now it is more and more difficult to separate work duties from family time. Many employers expect job commitment during the evenings and even the weekends. A recent report of the Committee On Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament notes that “digitalisation has brought many advantages to employers and workers, but also disadvantages, because it can intensify work, extend working hours and increase the unpredictability of working hours, blurring the boundaries between work and private life”

All the politicians taking part agreed with the need to have a common weekly day of rest but had different opinions though on what is the best policy to implement this. In January, the European Parliament called on the European Commission “to propose a law that enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. It should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarity working conditions, hours and rest periods”.

A right to disconnect means the possibility to separate, on a regular basis, family or leisure time from working hours. This is beneficial not only to the workers but, ultimately, also to society at large. During a day of rest we can spend more time with others, engaging in social activities, volunteering, sport, faith-related activities, travels, holidays, etc.

In most  European countries, Sunday is traditionally the day of rest from work. This is the heritage of the Christian tradition. Precisely 1,700 years ago, the Emperor Constantine decreed Sunday to be a day of rest protected by law. Nonetheless, many countries, including Ireland, allow businesses to run seven days a week. This has a profound impact on workers and their families.

The European Sunday Alliance is a network of trade unions, religious bodies and civil society organisations that want to raise awareness of the importance and value of a weekly day free from work. They also, ask for legislation at EU and Member States levels to be “more protective of the health, safety, dignity of everyone and should more attentively promote the reconciliation of professional and family life”. FAFCE is a member of the Alliance.

Notably, there were no Irish speakers. This is simply not an issue in Ireland. It should be.