France’s luxury of labour

In France, it takes lots of work merely to be allowed to work. Just ask Louis Vuitton. The iconic luxury goods maker recently hired 70-odd new employees so that starting last month it could keep its flagship store on Paris's Champs Elysées open on Sundays. You'd think a country with 10 per cent unemployment, and more than double that in the immigrant projects that went up in flames last fall, would be thrilled to see a private company create new jobs. You'd be wrong, says the Wall Street Journal.

The problem is that French labour laws put strict restrictions on Sunday operations. Though the churches are mostly empty and France is a "secular" republic, the Sabbath is sacred.

To survive in this market, one needs to be creative, says the Journal:

  • Louis Vuitton found a loophole in the rules, or so it thought. The city of Paris makes exceptions to the no-work-on-Sunday rules for restaurants, tobacco shops, owner-operated stores and – eureka! – museums.

  • So Louis Vuitton built a "cultural space" on the top floor devoted to company history and art exhibitions, winning permission to stay open.

  • Each Sunday, some 6,000 or so visitors who stop by to look at chic handbags can also check out a few objects d'art.

    France's trade unions won't have any of it, says the Journal:

  • The French Confederation of Christian Workers, a union that doesn't actually have any members employed at the store, has sued parent company LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton to force it to close on Sundays.

  • The union says the handbag purveyor is breaking the law – and setting a worrying precedent – with a "fake" museum designed to circumvent rules protecting workers.

    Source: Editorial, The Luxury of Labor, Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2006

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 06 June 2006
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