Paris - Braving a court ban, 14 home improvement stores in France opened to the public yesterday 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 and dangerous.
Last week, Leroy Merlin and Castorama, two home improvement chains, were ordered by a court to stop opening their stores in Paris on Sundays or face a fine of e120 000 (R1.6 million) per shop per day.
But yesterday, they opened anyway amid anger among employees and customers.
Spokespeople for both chains denounced a confusing law that allowed some stores to open and others not.
Under the law, retailers can only open on a Sunday under very specific conditions – if they are located in a tourist area, for instance.
And in an interview with yesterday’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Commerce Minister Sylvia Pinel acknowledged that there was “a complexity in the law” that demanded clarification.
But other ministers rebuked the chains. On Saturday Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said it was “unacceptable that a brand does not implement a judicial decision”.
By and large, customers said yesterday that they supported the decision to remain open.
“I’m ashamed; I think it’s outrageous that in this country, people are not being allowed to work. And then people are surprised that there is unemployment,” said Elisabeth Armani, a shopper at the Leroy Merlin store in Ivry.
Employees at some stores had set up stalls to explain to customers why they had decided to defy the court ban, and ask them to sign petitions.
Yesterday’s controversy came on top of another similar debate in France last week over a law banning late-night work.
A court ruled on Monday that cosmetics retailer Sephora must close its flagship Paris shop by 9pm after it had been keeping it open until midnight on weekdays and up to 1am 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 in France stood at a record 10.9 percent.
The retailer has said that it would appeal the court order. – Sapa-AFP