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'This is not New York, this law is for France'

Published: 25 Sep 2013 11:18 GMT+02:00

French working culture was once again at the centre of debate this week after trade unions won a court battle to force cosmetics maker Sephora to close its flagship Paris store on the Champs-Elysées by 9pm, stopping staff from working longer hours for extra pay.

Monday's ruling against Sephora follows a similar union-initiated move against Apple, earlier this year. 

Prior to Monday's ruling, 58 of the store's 200 employees would regularly volunteer for late-night work, and several of them were left fuming over the unions' initiative. "We have been stabbed by the unions," one said.

The story also sparked incredulity and anger online.

“This is idiotic. Do the police go home after their work shift is up, or do they finish what they are doing,” one reader of The Local commented. Another tweeted: “Those ****** are meant to support employees. WTF are they doing? Motto: Work less, earn less. Pay more taxes.”

But Eric Sherrer, from the Clic-P group of unions, which led the campaign to make Sephora and Apple close on time hit back at critics. Here he tells The Local why the ruling was right for France and that he doesn’t care if you can go shopping after midnight in New York.

Eric Sherrer: "The simple fact is that these shops broke the law by opening late. They did not respect French regulations. There would have been no problem at all if they had stuck to the rules.

“Many countries have laws that prevent children from working. We have this law because we think it is important. It is necessary for the good of humanity.

The law about opening late in France is there because we think it is necessary. It's not a case of having important rules and less important rules, a law is a law and it needs to be respected.

“I understand the frustration of certain workers, who volunteered for overtime. But we cannot make exceptions just because people are willing to work late. What will happen if we do? We will start making exceptions for everything.

“Sephora are a big chain. They could afford to defend themselves in court but why don’t we talk about all the stores that obey the laws.

'Laws are to protect workers'

“The most important thing to remember is that the laws are there to protect workers. If there are no laws to protect employees, or we allow companies to break them, then what? We will have shops opening until 11pm, midnight and soon 4am in the morning or even 24-hours a day.

“We do not need a change in the law to allow shops to open later. If a need arises, then the unions will sit down with the government and discuss the options. If it's needed and there’s an agreement, then we will modify the law.

“Sephora just wanted to stay open late for their image so they can say they welcome customers all hours of the day and to try to get ahead of their competitors.

“I don’t care if you can go to the Apple store or Sephora store in New York at any time of the night. If they respect the laws there, good for them, but this is France. Tourists don’t go to New York instead of Paris, just so they can shop at the Apple store after midnight.

“France is the first destination in the world for tourists and Paris is the most visited capital city in the world. If we were the least visited country then perhaps we would have a problem and have to look at this again, but we are not.

"I am not concerned with what happens in New York or any other country. All I am concerned about is what happens in France. I don’t tell them how to live and they should not tell us how to live.

“Things happen in other countries that I find shameful, but the people there might find normal. But if they're not angry about it then it’s not my problem. It is not up to them to say what the rules and laws are in France."

What do you make of Mr Sherrer's argument? Let us know in the comments section below.

Don't miss a story about France - join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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