By Lionel Laurent and Yann Le Guernigou
PARIS, Sept 29 France's government is ready to negotiate with retailers on Sunday-trading laws, though not on late-night shopping, after two retailers decided to stay open despite the threat of legal action.
Unions, trying to defend the 35-hour working week, are pitted against some retailers and even some employees who want to increase business at a time of record unemployment and stagnant economic growth. Retailers Leroy Merlin and Kingfisher-owned Castorama were open in Paris and its suburbs this Sunday, defying a court ruling on Thursday.
"The (Sunday-trading) law is a kind of machine that churns out lawsuits," Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Europe 1 radio. "Given that there are some employees who want to work and shoppers who today want to shop, could we not try to find some kind of path to an appropriate response?"
His comments echoed those made by a junior minister for trade, Sylvia Pinel. "We have inherited a kind of regulatory 'millefeuille'," she told Sunday newspaper Journal du Dimanche, referring to a layered French cake and the different trading regulations that apply in various districts.
"We will now work with sector professionals to address the question of Sunday trading," she said.
A spokeswoman for the French Prime Minister's office said that ministers would meet on Monday to discuss the topic, though she declined to comment directly on the government's position.
Despite the apparent flexibility on Sundays, Junior Minister Pinel said he would yield little ground on late-night shopping.
Apparently referring to a separate legal ruling on Monday that ordered LVMH-owned cosmetics store Sephora to close its Champs Elysees outlet at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT) instead of midnight, she said, "Late-night labour must remain the exception in order to preserve the health and free time of employees."
"Flexibility is possible via employee-management talks but reforming this law is unnecessary... It is always possible to wait till tomorrow to make a purchase," she said.
No one at Leroy Merlin, Castorama or the Elysee Palace of President Francois Hollande was immediately available to comment.