Businesses, Employees Protest Sunday Workday Constraints

Shoppers in France will find more store closings on Sundays after a recent court decision. Pictured here is a commercial street in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Photo: zoetnet for flickr.

Shoppers in France will have to deal with more store closings on Sundays after a recent court decision. Pictured here is a commercial street in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Photo: zoetnet for flickr.

French employees and retailers are unsettled over recently implemented curtailments on working Sundays. Protestors of the ban state that it “constrain[s] jobs and growth” and has “forced France’s Socialist government to the defensive” in a time of ongoing economic crisis.

“I’m outraged by the court decision,” said 24-year-old chiropractic student Eleanor Leloup. “All of a sudden, I risk ending up without a salary, which threatens my studies.” Leloup works weekends at a Leroy Merlin store in Ivry-sur-Seine near Paris.

The issue has also been at the forefront of French politics since early last week, when an unfair-competition lawsuit — brought by a rival home improvement store — forced hardware manufacturers Leroy Merlin and Castorama to close 14 Paris store locations on Sundays. If violated, companies could face fines of up to 120,000 euros ($162,000) per store infringement.

While the stores were able to obtain temporary waivers, employees were left disgruntled. Many anonymously stated their belief that the Sunday hours provide them with much-needed extra earnings, and also accommodate customers with little time to shop during the regular workweek.

The surge in popularity of Sunday workdays hearkens back to former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2009 motions to lift certain weekend working regulations. Predictably, the move encountered great opposition and was eventually settled with grants of special exemptions, legal waivers, and numerous other loopholes.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault ordered a review of the law this past Monday. Despite stemming from Roman Catholic and labor union traditions, millions of workers — and consumers — are voicing their favor for weeklong business hours. The review panel will report their research conclusions by the end of November.

Currently, retailers are only allowed to open on a Sunday if they meet very specific conditions — if they are located, for instance, in a high-traffic tourist location. Restaurants remain exempt from the rule, and shops and stores selling food may remain open until 1 PM. Sundays are regarded in most Western cultures with large Christian populations as a day of rest and relaxation.

Strange as the issue may seem to contemporary American life, reduced business activity on Sundays is not a rarity in much of Western Europe. While most British businesses are open on Sundays, the Madrid metropolitan area of Spain is in transition after recently repealing Sundays-off laws in light of the continued recession.

Germany currently operates under a 57-year-old law requiring businesses to close at 2 PM on Saturday through to Monday, although exceptions to this rule include gas and train stations. Berlin permits store operation on 10 Sundays out of each year.

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