EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Government to revise rules on Sunday working

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The French government recently commissioned a report on the rules and regulations for Sunday working, currently the focus of widespread public debate. There is a general consensus among shoppers, workers, unions and employers that the law in this area, which dates back to 1990, is complex, allowing numerous exemptions from the general ban on Sunday working. The key issue is how to maintain the principle that employees may work on Sunday only if they choose to do so.

Background

In 2009, the legislation that governs Sunday trading in France was amended by Act No. 2009-974 9 (in French) – the so-called Loi Mallié – which reaffirmed the principle that no-one should have to work on a Sunday but relaxed the rules to allow some businesses to open on Sundays in certain situations, such as during the holiday season in tourist areas. However, the number of employees working on Sundays has been growing since the 1990s, with young people and women particularly affected, according to a recent paper (in French, 840KB PDF) published by the Agency for Research, Studies and Statistics (DARES).

Recently, two retailers (DIY chains Castorama and Leroy Merlin) opened their shops to the public on Sundays. A commercial tribunal in Bobigny declared that both chains violated the Sunday trading laws and imposed a significant €120,000 penalty for each day that they remained in breach. This judgement follows legal action brought by another company, Bricorama, which had been the subject of similar legal action.

Current situation

Sunday working is forbidden by law but there are some exceptions to this rule: for example, where there is a need for production to fulfil the demands of the public (for example, in food manufacturing, entertainment, restaurants and so on). There are also some situations in which it is possible for businesses to gain a temporary exemption from the ban, such as:

  • if the outlet is in a tourist area;
  • if the outlet is located within an ‘area of exceptional consumption’;
  • if the Prefect of the region authorises the opening on economic grounds.

Topical issue

The issue is very topical: according to a recent poll by marketing and opinion poll specialists BVA 69% of the population are in favour of Sunday work and, according to the same research, if individuals were to receive double pay for working on Sundays, 63% would choose to do so.

The results of the poll were published in Les Echos (in French), indicating that eight out of ten French people are of the view that ‘DIY shops that want to open on Sundays should be left alone by the government’.

In recent weeks, a branch of Sephora, the beauty and cosmetics chain, on the Champs Elysées was forced to close its doors to the public at 21.00 instead of at midnight, and another shop, Monoprix, was investigated over its night working practices. In both cases, employees supported their employers’ remaining open until late at night.

Sunday working is more commonplace among workers in the property and personal security sectors and those providing services to the public, such as restaurants and hotels. According to DARES, these workers – in addition to healthcare workers – regularly work on Sundays. In fact, the proportion of the workforce working on a Sunday has grown steadily since 1990 and now affects between 20% and 29% of all employees. In 2011, close to 8.2 million people worked on Sundays, either regularly or habitually.

Report commissioned

Jean-Paul Bailly, former President of the Postal Service, was tasked with examining the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and putting forward recommendations to the government concerning Sunday trading.

Reactions of the social partners

The General Confederation of Labour (FO) is vehemently opposed to Sunday working and has been involved in much recent legal activity involving companies opening on Sundays. However, the union decided to suspend all legal proceedings pending publication of Jean-Paul Bailly’s report.

On its website, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) rejects the arguments in favour of Sunday working such as the need to support tourism, provide more shopping hours for consumers and grow the economy. The CGT calls for a new law to settle what it terms the ‘political question’ – based on its belief that the ‘Sunday rest is an element of social cohesion favouring social leisure time, self-cultivation and a break from the working rhythm’.

If new legislation was introduced, the national employer bodies and unions would then have to negociate compensation levels for Sunday workers.

The other large union, the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), also calls for new legislation, but believes that ‘when working on a Sunday can be justified, then trade unions and employers should negotiate the relevant compensation for employees’.

The employers’ position is also clear. Pierre Gattaz, President of the Movement of French Enterprises (MEDEF) has called for a ‘change in the law to prevent the current chaos to continue’. ‘It is unbearable to say that customers want to consume but are forbidden, and our employees want to work more and are forbidden, it is completely unrealistic,’ he said.

The General Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (CGPME) supports the principle of Sunday rest, but commented: ‘Wishing for an overhaul of the existing derogations without total deregulation would sign the death warrant of independent trades, which would be unable to meet the additional costs.’

Commentary

The Bailly report (in French, 2.3MB PDF) was published on 2 December and proposes some changes to the rules and regulations governing Sunday work. Overall, while the report endorses retaining the essence of the current law, it recommends increasing the number of exemptions to the ban against Sunday trading. It suggests increasing the number of times a business is allowed to open on a Sunday from five to 12 times a year.

It also recommends that the mechanism of derogations should be simplified and a national collective agreement should be reached through social dialogue, setting out financial compensation and additional rest periods for Sunday working.

The key issue is to maintain the principle that employees may work or not work on Sunday as they choose. The report also suggests that after the new law is adopted, the permanent and national derogation that allows furniture retailers to open every Sunday should be cancelled.

On 4 December, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced that the government agreed with the main conclusions of the report and will launch a national consultation of stakeholders and social partners with the aim of translating them into law by 2014.

David Tarren, IR Share

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