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Paris vendors rage over union-backed shorter hours


An appeals court in Paris has sided with unions to shorten store hours at cosmetics store Sephora’s boutique on the iconic Champs-Élysées, but salespeople who risk losing their jobs because of the ruling are livid.


A Paris appeals court this week ordered the French cosmetics chain Sephora to close its flagship boutique on the iconic Champs Élysées boulevard at 9pm, angering salespeople who say they have freely accepted to work until midnight for years and now risk losing their jobs.

Following a trend among other businesses on Paris's most celebrated street, Sephora began extending its opening hours in 1996. Its designer perfumes, makeup and other cosmetics were, until this week, sold until midnight between Monday and Thursday, and as late as 1am on Friday and Saturday.

Citing labour laws that restrict night-time work, France’s largest unions collectively sued the shop. An administrative court sided with Sephora on December 6, 2012, allowing the cosmetics giant to keep its exceptionally late hours on the Champs-Élysées.

However, the appeals court overturned that decision on Sunday, agreeing with unions that the store’s “normal activity” does not “make night-time work a necessarity,” as the law states.

Judges gave the retailer eight days to implement the decision and threatened to fine it 80,000 euros per day if the ruling is flaunted.

Sephora, which is owned by French luxury conglomerate LVMH, has pledged to launch a fresh appeal, but the latest decision is effective until another court rules the contrary.

Workers distraught

Sephora salespeople reacted with anger and alarm at the court’s decision, claiming the unions had “stabbed them in the back.”

“I am outraged at the way the unions have won,” vendor Inesco Sampiecro, told the AFP news agency. “We’ve been working this way for years. Do they even care what kind of upheavals this is going to cause in our lives?”

Three days before the court’s ruling, workers took out full-page adds in French newspapers to say shutting the store at 9pm “threatened to kill more than 45 jobs,” since the store made 20% of its total revenue at night.

“I want to cry,” said Diane, another salesperson, standing outside the courtroom on Sunday. “I see all my co-workers who are going to lose their jobs and who have been ruined by this decision… they have taken away our right to work without even asking us.”

According to Sephora union leaders who work at the Champs-Élysées boutique and stood against their own labour groups’ lawsuit, salespersons working until midnight earned 50% more over their base salary and were compensated with double the normal vacation time.

Unions stand their ground

Battling “graveyard shifts” has been one of the major causes adopted by French unions in recent years, and Sunday’s decision against Sephora was one in a chain of recent victories.

“We will continue to fight so that the law is upheld,” declared Karl Ghazi, a leader of CGT, France’s biggest union. “This is all about competition, with the prize going to whoever decides to break the rules first.”

“As soon as one company violates the labour laws, the others are forced to follow suit or lose business. So we are forced to systematically go after anyone who breaks the law so that the law remains the same for everyone,” Ghazi added.

Eric Scherrer, another leader of the union group fighting Sephora, said France could not base its labour standards on a case-by-case basis. “If we look hard enough, we’ll find volunteers to do anything, and then no rules will aply,” he said in reference to the salespeople who argued they chose their night shifts freely.

In June 2012, unions won a major case against late-night shopping at Paris’ famous Galeries Lafayette. Since then, they have also successfully filed suits against world-renowned brands Apple and Uniqlo.

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