French baker ordered to close shop one day a week

Thomas Coex, AFP I Freshly baked baguettes

An award-winning baker from southwestern France has found himself at the heart of a debate over French labour practices after local authorities ordered him to close his bakery at least once a week.


Just last year, Stéphane Cazenave was honoured with the prize for best traditional baguette at the Fête du Pain, a competition organised by French bakers.

But he will now be forced to close his business in Saint-Paul-lès-Dax at least once a week, after local authorities found that he was in violation of labour regulations by staying open seven days out of seven. The ruling was based on a decree, issued in 1999, that requires bakeries to close for at least 24 hours each week.

The decision has left Cazenave, 42, outraged.

“This means a net loss of 250,000 euros of revenue per year,” he said. “I’m going to have to lay off one or two employees.”

Labour debate

The baker was not the only one angered by the situation. For some, including former prime minister François Fillon, Cazenave’s case is emblematic of the country’s traditional attitudes towards work.

“The fact that work in our country can be considered a crime, and that an artisan’s passion may be constrained in such a way should alert us to the absurdity of our system,” Fillon, a member of the country’s conservative UMP party, wrote on his blog, adding that Cazenave had his full support.

François Bayrou, head of the country’s centrist Modem party and a three-time presidential candidate, echoed Fillon’s comments.

“There’s the impression that the desire to create, to generate new jobs is poorly viewed in France and sanctioned,” he said.

Others have argued that Cazenave’s situation is not about punishing those who want to work more, but rather about safeguarding a specific market.

“We are very attached to these decrees,” Jean-Pierre Crouzet, president of the national baker’s confederation, told AFP. “It’s not to prevent people from working but to find a balance and promote product quality.”

Crouzet underscored the importance of sharing the market, pointing out that if every bakery were allowed to remain open seven days a week, then there would be too much supply for the demand. He also argued that forcing businesses to close at least once a week fostered competition by allowing customers to shop elsewhere when their usual bakery is shut.

‘Macron law’

The issue has revived an ongoing debate over whether France can change its labour rules, as the country struggles with soaring unemployment and a stagnant economy.

Earlier this year, the country’s new economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, unveiled a series of new reforms designed to stimulate growth and reduce the jobless rate, which has surpassed the symbolic 10 percent mark.

These measures, which include plans to lift some restrictions on Sunday trading, are part of a bill known as the “Macron law” currently under debate in parliament.

However, Agriculture Minister and government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll dismissed the controversy over Cazenave’s situation as political jockeying.

“I would like to recall that this [decision] is based on a decree from 1999, and that at the time, these decrees were issued after negotiation and discussion with professionals, in this case bakers, in order to reach the necessary agreements,” he said.

“We must be able – and that’s the whole debate over the ‘Macron law,’ the simplification that’s taking place – to adapt and to, above all, open dialogue and negotiations that are clear for everyone,” he added.

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