Has the notion of Sabbath rest, dear to the French Minister of Labour Michel Sapin, become obsolete? While in Italy, Portugal, Britain and the United States, storekeepers are free to open their businesses on Sundays, this is an issue that still divides France.
Last Thursday, the Trade Tribunal of Bobigny ordered the hardware chain-store brands Castorama and Leroy-Merlin to stop opening fifteen stores in the Île-de-France region on Sundays. All were nevertheless open on the following Sunday. “No, we’re not rebels. The Mallié Bill from 2009 only allows stores in the PUCE zones (editorial note: activity zones in French urban areas where Sunday trading is permitted on an exceptional basis) to open. Five of our stores have obtained exemptions from this rule. The law must now be generalised without the need to take recourse to a regime of exceptions,” the Communications Manager for Castorama declared to the Bureau du Commerce International.
This cacophony is only yet another episode in a feisty battle to expand trading rights. The number of dissidents is now countless: Auchan in Perpignan in summer 2011, which offended Lutte Ouvrière in particular; Carrefour in Coutances (department of Manche) in summer 2012, to name just a couple.
Sabbath rest was instigated in 1906. Ever since, rules have been loosened little by little. Restaurants, hotels, hospitals, retirement homes, emergency chemists, performance-related businesses are exempt from the rule. In addition, Article L-221-5 of the Code du Travail (French employment code) permits businesses to open 5 Sundays per year, food stores to open until midday, and stores situated in tourist towns to serve the public all day.
It is now hardware stores that want their say. And their arguments are manifold. Their employees are keen to earn more. Things seem a bit unfair for hardware stores when gardening stores are already granted the right not to close on Sundays.
New conclusions awaited in November
With no answer to settle this question clearly, the topic has become a golden electoral opportunity for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, candidate for the position of Mayor of Paris in the 2014 mayoral elections. “Thousands of jobs are lost this way. What we can change straight away is to open stores on Sunday in Paris. This can be resolved simply by the mayor signing permission,” she declared recently.
For the moment, the government contents itself with playing for time. Following a meeting gathering French ministers Sylvia Pinel (Trade), Pierre Moscovici (Economy), Michel Sapin (Labour) and Benoît Hamon (Social and Solidarity Economy), the Prime
Minister’s office has announced that a “’mission” is to be led by Jean-Paul Bailly, former CEO of La Poste to handle the dossier. The aim: to clarify the legal structure. “To examine the weaknesses of the current system, to shed light on the issues surrounding
the opening of certain shops on Sunday, and to make proposals to the government,”according to the press release from the Prime Minister’s office. The conclusions are to be handed down in November. However, Castorama and Leroy-Merlin will not be waiting until then; the stores have already announced that they will be opening this coming Sunday.