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Strikes leave French shopkeepers fearing another Christmas slump

Last year they suffered during the ‘yellow vest’ protests, this year they are bracing for unlimited strikes - France's shopkeepers fear there is another tough festive season ahead.

Strikes leave French shopkeepers fearing another Christmas slump
Will the upcoming strikes empty the Parisian shopping streets? Photo: AFP

France is preparing for Thursday December 5th when multiple unions go on what is predicted to be highly disruptive strikes, potentially paralysing the country for weeks. 

With unions saying they are ready to keep the strike going for an 'unlimited' period of time if the government doesn't backpedal on its proposed pension reform, French shopkeepers fear they will be stuck in the crossfire – again.

Last year, shopkeepers in cities like Paris, Toulouse, Lille and Bordeaux saw their incomes fall sharply during the weekly, occasionally violent, ‘yellow vest’ protests. 

This year a union representing independent shopkeepers has called for December to “remain a moment of reconciliation.” 

“We’re fearing for our lives,” the union stated in a tribune published in Le Parisien this week, begging shoppers to defy potential transport jams and visit their shops in the festive season, which is a “crucial” month for shopkeepers. 

READ ALSO 'Unlimited' December strikes in France: What you need to know

“The state can't do everything”

The unease is shared by local shopkeepers in Paris, some of whom are preparing for the worst.

“Obviously we’ll lose money,” said Azar Hagege, the owner of a small shoe shop called Djena, situated in what is usually a lively shopping street in the 2nd arrondissement, a little south of Strasbourg Saint Denis. 

Saturday is the big day for shopkeepers like Hagege, who said he worries the transport networks remain paralysed over the weekend.

“We won't have any customers in that case,” he said. 

READ ALSO: Six ways to get around Paris without Metro

Hagege, who also distributes shoes to shops in other cities, said last year's ‘yellow vest’ protests “strongly” reduced both his own and his clients’ revenues.

Still, Hagege said understands some of the strikers demands.

“But not all of them. The state can’t do everything,” he said.

“Macron I hate you with all my heart.” A 'yellow vest' protester with a clear message to the French President. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s too early to say.”

Among the groups striking are railway workers, Metro and bus drivers, hauliers, airline ground crew, air traffic controllers and postal workers. Also joining the strike are the country’s two largest teacher’s unions, with one of them telling The Local that they fear the proposed reform would push teachers into poverty.

READ ALSO: “French unions justify action to paralyse country”

Olivia Phelil used to be a teacher in département 93 (Seine-Saint-Denis), popularly dubbed “le neuf-trois” (the nine-three), known for containing some of France's most deprived banlieues with high levels of crime and social issues. 

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.

She quit her job, and now she sells handmade jewelry from her own store, JICQY, which she opened a couple of year ago in the heart of the hip 10th arrondissement in Paris.

So far it’s going well. Phelil has two interns working for her. Both of them live in the suburbs, so Phelil said she might let one of them sleep at her house on Wednesday to make it easier for her to get to work the next day.

Phelil is aware of the teachers' grievances. During her years as a teacher she herself went on strike several times with her colleagues. JICQY is only two years old, so she cannot say with certainty whether the store lost money or not due to the ‘yellow vest’ protests last year. But, for the time being, she isn’t too worried about the impact of the upcoming strike will have on her finances. 

“It’s too early to say. Let’s first see how long they keep it going for,” she said.


December is the most important month for shopkeepers, who fear for the consequences of a prolonged strike. PHOTO: AFP

“A disaster”

Further south, closer to the Metro station Étienne Marcel, shop owner Philippe Stainer hit a tougher note when asked about the upcoming strike.

“I don’t think [the strikers] have anything to complain about,” he said.

Referring to the groups of strikers that are currently subject to so-called ‘special regimes’, which the pension reform aims to do away with, Stainer said that they are better off than independent business owners “who pay taxes until there’s nothing left.”

“They receive so much help.”

READ ALSO: Do strikers in France get paid?

In an echo of Hagege, Stainer said he has “no doubt” the upcoming strike will affect the number of people visiting his clothing store Purple, and that he already saw his income slashed last year during the 'yellow vest' protests.

“It was a disaster,” he said.

“I understand some of what [the strikers] want, but I don’t support putting the country to a halt like that.”

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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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