French stores fight to work on Sundays

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Many regard ban on Sunday work antiquated

Store workers wear shirts to protest against a court decision to force shorter working hours on Sundays, in Gennevillierson Sunday. —Photo: AP
Store workers wear shirts to protest against a court decision to force shorter working hours on Sundays, in Gennevillierson Sunday. —Photo: AP

Braving a court ban, 14 home improvement stores in France opened to the public on Sunday in an increasingly bitter tug of war with the government over a law prohibiting trading on the traditional day of rest.

The move comes amid intense debate over France’s labour practices. The government is seeking to continue a long tradition ruling out Sunday and late-night work, but at a time of record high unemployment, many employees regard the ban as antiquated.

Last week, both Leroy Merlin and Castorama, two home improvement chains, were ordered by a court to stop opening their stores in the Paris area on Sundays or face a fine of €120,000 ($162,000) per shop and per day.

But on Sunday, they opened anyway amid anger among employees and customers.

Spokespeople for both chains denounced a confusing ban that allows some stores to open in certain cases.

Under French law, retailers can only open on a Sunday under very specific conditions — if they are located in a tourist area, for instance. Any shop selling food, such as a butcher, can also do trade until 1 p.m.

Some government ministers have acknowledged that changes need to be made.

A complexity

In an interview with Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Sylvia Pinel, minister for commerce and the crafts industry, acknowledged that there was “a complexity in the law” that demanded clarification.

And Bruno Le Roux, head of the ruling Socialists’ lower house National Assembly faction, said on Radio J that retailers should be given the “possibility” of working Sundays. But other politicians have rebuked the two home improvement chains.

By-and-large, customers who came to the DIY stores on Sunday said they supported the decision to remain open.

The Sunday controversy comes on top of another similar debate that emerged last week — this time over a law banning late-night work.

A court ruled on Monday that cosmetics retailer Sephora must close its flagship Paris store by 9 p.m. after it had been keeping it open until midnight on weekdays and up to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, to capitalise on demand for late-night shopping.

Employees of the store have since blasted the unions that brought the case for preventing them from opting to work longer hours for extra pay, at a time when unemployment stands at a record 10.9 per cent.




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