Sunday Shopping Gets a Committee as Hollande Seeks to End Clash

Sunday shopping is turning into a political hot potato for French President Francois Hollande.

Faced with a standoff over stores wanting to open Sunday and unions opposing it, his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault today did what he often does in such cases: he named a committee to study the issue.

“Sunday rest is an essential principle in terms of protecting labor and for social cohesion,” Ayrault said in a statement. “At the same time, Sunday work is a reality.”

Socialist President Hollande’s government is seeking to strike a balance between appeasing unions, which are asking that stores remain closed on Sundays, and dealing with near-record joblessness and sliding purchasing power, with many employees willing to work extra hours for additional pay. France has 3.24 million people looking for work. The 10.5 percent unemployment rate in metropolitan France is at a 14-year high.

Ayrault today named Jean-Paul Bailly, 66, who recently retired as chairman and chief executive officer of La Poste, the French postal service, to “study the weaknesses of the current law, consider the ramifications of certain businesses opening on Sunday, and making propositions to the government.”

Since become prime minister in May 2012, Ayrault has created “missions” to make proposals on issues including taxation of Internet companies, the tax status of non-profits, the prices paid to egg farmers, violence in schools, prison conditions in overseas territories, and how to promote exports.

His latest committee will study a 1906 law that forbids most non-food retailers in France to open on Sunday.

Confusing Rules

The law has been modified over the years, leaving a mishmash of rules. Stores can open Sunday on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, although not on the “Grands Boulevards,” which have the largest department stores.

Furniture and gardening stores can remain open, while do-it-yourself outlets can’t. Some food stores can be open all day, others just the morning. All stores can choose five Sundays a year to open, with most generally opting for Christmas time and during twice-a-year sales. Family-owned neighborhood grocery stores, aren’t affected by the law.

Two do-it-yourself chains -- Kingfisher Plc’s Castorama and Groupe Adeo’s Leroy Merlin -- kept some stores open yesterday even after a court ruling last week ordering them shut.

That follows last week’s decision by a Paris court that the Champs Elysees branch of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s Sephora cosmetic chain must close no later than 9 p.m.

Castorama’s Case

The disputes pitted workers who want to earn extra money against unions that say they want to protect the interest of all workers.

“Once Sunday work becomes generalized, do you think no one will be forced to work Sunday?” Eric Scherrer, head of the Interprofessional Union of Commerce Workers, said in an interview with France Inter radio today.

Castorama kept four Paris suburban stores open yesterday even though the Bobigny commercial court Sept. 26 ordered them to stop opening Sunday. An outside spokeswoman for Castorama said the company had already entered appeals, and local authorities had given them permission to stay open. She said the company doesn’t know if they’ll be allowed to open next Sunday.

Castorama says it has polled its employees and 93 percent favor being allowed to work Sunday. No one is forced to work Sunday, when salaries are 50 percent higher.

Public Support

Those bonuses only exist because of laws limiting Sunday work, said Scherrer. “Do you think they will continue to pay those bonuses?” he asked.

A total of 4 million people work in retail, Scherrer said, and “they already work six days out of seven, which is more than enough for all of us to buy the things we need.”

According to a CSA poll for the business federation FMB released in April, about 52 percent of the French favor of Sunday store openings for the home-improvement sector. For residents of the Paris region, approval stood at 74 percent.

In the case of LVMH’s Sephora, the Champs Elysees branch stayed open until midnight and 1 a.m. on weekends. A Paris court ruled it was breaking rules that limit night work to culture and essential services.

More than 50 Sephora’s employees attended the hearing to support the company’s position.

Sunday and night work has risen over the past 20 years, according to state statistical institute Insee. About 3 million people work regularly Sunday and 3.5 million occasionally, while 16.2 million never do, according to Insee’s 2013 yearbook. The 29 percent who work Sunday is up from 20 percent in 1990.

Another 3.5 million work between midnight and 5 a.m., an increase of one million since 1990.

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