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France upholds ban on late-night shop openings

Published: 04 Apr 2014 10:45 GMT+02:00

Stores on the Champs-Elysées will have to remain closed late at night after the country’s top constitutional court ruled that a ban on late-openings was within the law.

The landmark case which reignited the debate over French attitudes to work at a time of record high unemployment, arose last September when bosses and staff at Sephora were left furious after trade unions won a court battle to force the cosmetics giant to close its flagship store on the famous Paris avenue by 9pm.

Under French law, companies can ask employees to work between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am but such shifts have to be "exceptional" rather than the rule and justified by a tightly defined set of criteria. 

Sephora challenged this law claiming it was against the principle of freedom of enterprise but on Friday the "sages" at the Constitutional Council rejected the store's argument.

The court ruled that it provided the right balance between the freedoms needed to manage a company and requirements on "protecting the health and rest" of workers - a decision that Sephora said it was "disappointed" with.

Until the September ruling Sephora had been keeping its Champs-Elysées store open until midnight on weekdays and up to 1:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays to capitalise on demand for late-night shopping opportunities from tourists visiting the French capital.

The ruling gave the company little option but to comply. Had it not, it would have had to pay a fine of €80,000 ($108,000) for every day it opened after 9:00pm and for every employee working after that time.

Employees of the store slammed  the unions that brought the case for preventing them from opting to work longer hours for extra pay at a time of record high unemployment.

Prior to the ruling, 58 of the store's 200 employees would regularly volunteer for late-night work. Sephora saleswoman Ines Sampiecro told AFP: "We have been stabbed in the back by the unions."

A 29-year-old employee who identified himself as Emmanuel said the decision was a "disaster". He told Le Parisien newspaper Tuesday that the double pay for working nights and holidays covered nearly all his rent.

But speaking to The Local at the time of the original ruling Eric Sherrer, from the Clip P umbrealla group of trade of trade unions which led the campaign to force Sephora to close by 9pm said this law was for Paris not New York (See link below).

“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," he said

“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."

OPINION: This is not New York, this law is for Paris

Things are unlikely to change anytime soon with new Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo telling The Local recently that she is against turning Paris into a 24/7 shopping city like New York and London.

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Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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