French workers strike for the right to work on Sundays

A sign at a workers protest in Paris advocates for the right to work on Sundays.

Talb Mourad works in the bathroom supply department at a French hardware store in Paris. He says working on Sundays can add up to $400, or 30 percent, to his monthly paycheck.

Workers at a protest in Paris with shirts that read "Yes Week-end". Employees fighting for the right to work on Sundays have borrowed their slogan from the Obama campaign.

Labor protests in France aren’t exactly news. French workers are always taking to the streets to defend better pay and time off. But with France weighed down with economic trouble, a new group of employees from two large hardware store chains is demanding to work more, and it’s pulled its slogan straight from the Obama campaign.

The protestors at a recent protest in Paris chanted, “Yes, Week-End,” in their effort to convince French officials to allow them to work on Sundays.

The French government restricts most stores from opening on Sundays -- a day traditionally reserved for family time in France.

“On Sundays, in the French culture, you don’t work,” says Talb Mourad, who earns his living in the bathroom supply department. He argues Sunday restrictions are bad for workers and the French economy. For sectors that are allowed to operate on Sunday in France, workers are paid time and a half. Mourad says working on Sundays would add as much as $400, or 30 percent, to his monthly paycheck.

“The French economy today is in a bad position,” says Mourad. “You know, we have recession. We have problems of unemployment. We need things to be changed. We need to get jobs, and not letting us work on Sundays won’t do that. It’s not fair." 

The protestors employers agree. Companies say lifting Sunday restrictions would generate millions of dollars in sales. But so far, the French government has refused, despite the fact that Spain and Italy have made similar changes to Sunday rules.

University of Paris VIII professor Olivier Babeau says that’s because French officials fear a backlash from powerful trade unions.

“Trade unions are very, very inflexible about this problem,” says Babeau. “In fact, they don’t want to speak about it.”

The unions Marketplace contacted didn’t respond to numerous requests for an interview. Babeau says the unions’ concerns could be that giving up Sundays off might open the door to other, bigger labor reforms.

And while you might think customers would be happy to shop on Sundays, not all of them support the idea.

"I know it’s going to be more convenient if all these stores are going to be open, but to be honest I believe it’s better not to work on Sundays,” said Oliver Theodoulou, who was shopping at a Paris hardware store. “So I prefer most of the stores to be closed.”

Theodoulou was taking care of his home improvement needs in the middle of a weekday.

Talb Mourad works in the bathroom supply department at a French hardware store in Paris. He says working on Sundays can add up to $400, or 30 percent, to his monthly paycheck.

Workers at a protest in Paris with shirts that read "Yes Week-end". Employees fighting for the right to work on Sundays have borrowed their slogan from the Obama campaign.

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