British store chain Marks & Spencer is heading for another scrap with French trade unions.
Fifteen years after the upmarket British chain caused outrage in France by suddenly closing 18 stores and prompting 1,700 job losses, the company once again raised blood pressure on this side of the Channel on Tuesday by announcing its seven outlets in Paris are to bite the dust.
That means some 500 jobs are at risk. Eleven other franchise food outlets however will remain open.
Seci-Unsa, the main trade union representing workers at M&S, said the British company must respect French labour laws.
That means M&S should be actively looking for a buyer for its seven stores, says Seci-unsa.
Under a 2014 French law known as the “Loi Florange” a company looking to close down an establishment that results in job cuts has an obligation to actively look for a buyer.
“The only demand we have right now is that French law is respected,” said Yasin Leguet, the Seci-Unsa union representative for Marks & Spencer workers.
“I hope that time will be taken to actively find a credible buyer as is required in the Loi Florange,” he said.
When M&S first left France in 2001 it caused rancour among the French political class after the company was accused of ignoring European laws by failing to consult with workers before announcing the store closures.
(2001 protests against the closure of Marks & Spencer stores in France. AFP)
In fact the retailer broke the news to staff just half an hour before it made an announcement to the stock exchange.
The then Prime Minister Lionel Jospin described the act as “brutal”, “unacceptable” and “scandalous”.
Eric Scherrer from the Secu-Unsa union told The Local on Tuesday that: “Marks & Spencer France works well. The sales figures are there. A loss of €19 million across the whole company is not a lot.”
“The problem is the workers in France are at the mercy of a CEO and whatever savings plan they come up with.
“For the moment Marks & Spencer says it will respect the rules, but we don’t know what will happen.”
Scherrer said the company must provide “real” help for the 500 staff whose jobs are on the line, whether it's to find work or training as well as adequate financial compensation “above what the law requires”.
Marks & Spencer told The Local its plan to close the seven stores is still “subject to consultation with appropriate representative bodies”.
The company insists all will be done over the consultation period to try to protect jobs including the possibility of finding investors for the stores.
The possibility of the franchise partners SFH Invest and Lagardere Travel Retail France, which run the 11 stores that will remain open, taking over the other seven stores will also be investigated M & S says.
The seven stores to close in France are: M&S Aeroville, M&S Beaugrenelle, M&S Champs-Élysées, M&S So Ouest Levallois-Parret, M&S Villeneuve La Garenne, M&S Food Hausmann (La 'Chaussée D'Antin') and M&S Food Saint Lazare (La Pepiniere).
The eleven stores not affected are: M&S Food Charles De Gaulle Airport T2E, M&S Food Chatelet Les Halles RER Station, M&S Food Gare de l'Est and M&S Food La Défense, M&S Food Passy (Duban), M&S Food Avenue du Général Leclerc, M&S Food Ledru Rollin, M&S Food Palais des Congrès, M&S Food Grand Rex (Poissonnière), M&S Food Saint Michel, and M&S Food Marche Saint Germain.