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* Decree allows Sunday trading for DIY stores til mid 2015
* Workers will have to be paid at least twice more -decree
* Move seeks to appease retailers, workers pending new law
By Natalie Huet
PARIS, Dec 31 The French government has ruled to
let home improvement stores open temporarily on Sundays while it
reviews complex trading rules business leaders say hold back
growth in Europe's second largest economy.
Sunday has been enshrined in law as a day of rest in France
since 1906 but myriad clauses and exemptions have complicated
the situation - with furniture and gardening stores for example
cleared to open but not home improvement (DIY) stores.
Managers and workers from DIY stores have in recent months
demanded the right to open too, staging protests and defying
court-ordered closures in a dispute pitting them against
hardline trade unions.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, France's trade and labour
ministers said the government had passed a decree exempting DIY
stores from the Sunday trading ban until July 1, 2015.
They said the move aimed to ensure that DIY stores willing
to open on Sundays could do so legally pending an overhaul of
the country's trading laws. They restated, however, that Sunday
rest should remain the rule, and openings the exception.
The latest exemption would only impact those DIY store
workers willing to work on Sundays, they said, stressing that
these would have to be paid at least twice their usual wage, be
granted compensatory rest and given guarantees in terms of job
security and training opportunities.
Gerald Fillon, a Leroy-Merlin employee and spokesman for DIY
workers supporting Sunday openings, welcomed the news.
"It's a great relief. This decree will allow us to open
every weekend without being attacked from all sides," he told
Reuters. "We're very happy the government heard us."
Business leaders in support of Sunday trading say it would
boost jobs and wages in France at a time when unemployment has
surged above 10 percent and economic growth is close to zero.
They are backed by some workers who say they need the extra
pay. Some, such as Fillon, even took to the streets, demanding
the right to work on Sunday and chanting "Yes Week-End" in a pun
on U.S. President Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign slogan.
But opponents say Sunday trading usually creates low-paid,
part-time labour. Others say Sunday should remain a quiet day
devoted to personal, spiritual and family time.
In September, a court ordered 15 Castorama and Leroy Merlin
stores in the Paris region to close on Sundays, following a
complaint by competitor Bricorama, which was itself
ordered last year to shut down on that day.
The ruling angered business federations and Prime Minister
Jean-Marc Ayrault sought to defuse the dispute by tasking the
former head of France's postal service to find ways to fix
"weaknesses" in the current rules.
Employees of cosmetics store Sephora are also
campaigning to overturn another ruling, which forbade its Champs
Elysees outlet to stay open until midnight.
Fillon, the DIY store worker, said a lot still had to be
done to simplify Sunday trading rules while making them fair for
workers. The decree is only a temporary fix, he said.
"This is a new step in our fight. We won't be taking the
streets anymore, but maybe we'll hang out a bit more in the
parliament's lobbies," he said.
(Editing by Mark John and Louise Heavens)