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French employees and unions up in arms over right to work Sundays

Sephora on the Champs-Elysées Avenue in Paris.
Sephora on the Champs-Elysées Avenue in Paris. JanetandPhil/FLick'r/CC

The French government has warned businesses in Paris against opening their doors on Sunday, in light of court orders. Home repair megastores Leroy Merlin and Castorama have announced their plans to keep their stores open in the French capital, regardless.


“It’s unacceptable that a store should refuse to adhere to a court order,” Benoît Hamon, Junior Minister for the Social Economy, told the AFP news agency.

Castorama and Leroy Merlin both received court orders demanding they close their stores on Sundays, under the threat of a 120,000 euro fine per store, per day.

Leroy Merlin says it has done nothing illegal, and plans to keep open its 9 store locations in the Paris area, which have been slapped with the ban.

Castorama says it will keep its stores open, but with hopes to receive the appropriate authorisations in due time.

On Friday night, employees of cosmetics giant Sephora summoned trade unions to court in Paris, asking for an injunction on a court order to close their store on the Champs-Elysées Avenue at 9pm. Sephora risks paying a fine of 80,000 euros per employee, per infringement of the court order.

Sephora’s Champs-Elysées location, which welcomes thousands of tourists each year, had previously been open until midnight.

Sephora employees say they are not forced to work evenings against their will and want to retain their right to work late nights, where they can earn 25 percent more.

The issue of working late nights and Sundays has enflamed politicians on the right and the left. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, UMP party candidate for Paris mayor, said Friday that she planned to propose a bill authorising the opening of businesses at night.

The UMP plans to discuss the issue at an Assembly meeting on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Communist politician Ian Brossat said he remains strongly against such a law.

“The future of humanity, according to the UMP party, is that people will be able to buy their yogurt at 2 o’clock in the morning, while a poor worker with no rights sits behind the counter to serve them,” said Brossat in a statement.

Pierre Gattaz, the head of France’s largest employers union Medef, said on Friday that he was appalled by the court decisions, saying the country would be hit four times over by the closings.

Speaking to BFM-TV, Gattaz said: “We penalise the client, who wants to shop on Sunday, and the employee who wants to work, but also the company who makes 10 to 20 percent of its sales on Sundays. In the end, employment itself is penalised.”

France currently has a 10.9 percent unemployment rate, which equals more than 3 million people without work.


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