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France Closed for Christmas 2006

Tuesday 19 December 2006

With Christmas Eve falling this year on a Sunday, it has opened the re-occurring debate about restrictive Sunday opening laws in France.

The law authorises shops to open five days a year on a Sunday, but as many choose to do so in the run up to Xmas and during the winter and summer sales, this year they are going to be forced to stay closed Xmas and New Year’s Eve, simply because they have used up their Sunday opening allowance.

Given that both days are traditionally important ones in the retailing calendar, there is widespread concern about the knock-on effect on annual sales.

The Minister of Commerce Renaud Dutreil has stated it is ‘absurd’ that some shops will not be opening on Christmas Eve, but without legal dispensation, shops would be liable to heavy fines if they choose to ignore the law.

Indeed, a number of boutiques in the popular tourist area of Marais in Paris were recently raided by trading standards officers and hauled before the local commercial court for opening on a Sunday.

The Rue des Francs-Bourgeois has been known for years as ‘la rue des deux samedis’, as shops in the area have been making use of confusion in the interpretation of the law to remain open on Sundays.

Thus, certain types of shops are permitted to open on a Sunday and the law grants similar exemption for shops run entirely by ‘family’ members.

This concession illustrates the main reason why shops in France are normally closed on Sundays. Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with religious observance, but with a 100-year-old law that grants to employees the right to 24 hours complete rest in any six-day period.

Employees can work extra hours on a voluntary basis, but employers are required to pay up to 300% of basic wage and grant an extra day in lieu.

Given the general French disdain for most laws they do not agree with, it seems reasonable to assume that, come the 24th Dec, most shops will open for business and doing a roaring trade!

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