Sunday openings have been the talk of the town in France ever since do-it-yourself chains Castorama and Leroy Merlin opened 14 stores on Ile-de-France last Sunday, despite a judicial restraining order. The “revolt” caused such a stir that the government was forced to appoint a “wise man” to defuse the minefield.
“Why can they and can’t we?”
Despite a commercial court judge prohibiting Sunday openings - with a 120,000 euro penalty per store per day - 14 stores from Castorama and Leroy Merlin opened their doors anyway last Sunday. The ban was the result of a court case started by competitor Bricorama in the summer.
Bricorama did not accept both competitors being allowed to open on Sunday, when it could not do the same thing after labour union Force Ouvrière had successfully sued the company for not adhering to the law designating Sunday as a day of rest. The trial resulted in Bricorama having to close on Sunday.
The fight between the three competitors is just the tip of the iceberg, as these three do-it-yourself chains all fight the same fight. Their sector does not agree with the fact that the garden and furniture chains are allowed to open on Sunday in France, while they cannot.
Difficult task for government
Things get even more complicated seeing how some do-it-yourself stores are allowed to open up on Sunday, while others are not. The entire situation comes from an unclear and barely definitive piece of legislation, leaving room for interpretation.
That meant that the Ayrault government now has to move in, after denouncing Castorama’s and Leroy Merlin’s decision to ignore the court’s decision – "Until further notice, France is still a constitutional state". Nevertheless, the government has started to realize that the two chains may have a reason to complain - possibly as (afraid of losing their job and their Sunday bonus) employees have sided with their employers.
Painful situation for Prime Minister Ayrault
Whatever the reasons may be, Paris has quickly appointed Jean-Paul Bailly, the former head of the French postal services, to examine the “shortcomings of the current piece of legislation and the influence of Sunday openings on certain sectors", start a dialogue between all parties (employers, employees, consumer organizations and others) and propose a solution to the government.
The appointment alone is a painful defeat for Prime Minister Ayrault. When he was mayor of Nantes, he had always refused to allow even the usual minimum of five Sunday openings per year. He was and still is convinced that “Sunday rest is essential, both for the protection of the workers and for the social cohesion” of the country.