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French labour minister shrugs off retail job losses

Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud
Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud REUTERS/Charles Platiau

French Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud said on Tuesday that the loss of 466 jobs at a ready-to-wear retailer shows that "we can't keep the trades of the past". The redundancy programme at the Happychic company shows the need for investment in training in the "trades of the future", she argued.


Trade unions reacted angrily to Tuesday's announcement that Happychic would close 90 shops, on top of 13 that were already marked for closure at the end of the year, and shed up to 466 jobs.

Claiming that the company had received five million euros in tax breaks and paid out 40 million euros in dividends over the last two years, the CGT union vowed to "do everything possible to have this social sabotage cancelled".

Forty-three workers at a Happychic warehouse whose bail has not been renewed have been on strike since 26 June and workers picketed another warehouse in protest at potential job losses at the beginning of July.

The company has 740 shops in 17 countries and a workforce of 4,000, 2,600 of them in France.

It blamed the redundancy programme on "the development of ecommerce, changes in buying habits and a fall in consumers' clothing budgets".

A plan to shed 208 jobs by voluntary redundancies was also announced at the beginning of the year at Pimkie, the women's ready-to-wear arm of the Mulliez group.

Minister blames ecommerce

"It's true that employment is changing," Muriel Pénicaud commented, when asked about the Happychic job losses by RTL radio on Wednesday. "Retail is a major example."

She zeroed in on ecommerce as the reason.

It means "fewer shops but more logistics and transport", she said, adding that the government should help the development of the latter sectors.

"Tomorrow we can't keep the trades of the past," the minister explained. "We can't keep candles when there is electricity.

"On the other hand, everybody must be able to enter the age of electricity, or the age of the internet, or the trades of the future. There must be huge investment so that everyone has the capacity to have the skills."

President Emmanuel Macron has promised to make France a "start-up nation", placing great hopes on initiatives like Paris's Station F artificial intelligence hub.

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