France says will negotiate on Sunday-trading dispute


By Lionel Laurent and Yann Le Guernigou

PARIS, Sept 29 (Reuters) - France's government is ready tonegotiate with retailers on Sunday-trading laws, though not onlate-night shopping, after two retailers decided to stay opendespite the threat of legal action.

Unions, trying to defend the 35-hour working week, arepitted against some retailers and even some employees who wantto increase business at a time of record unemployment andstagnant economic growth. Retailers Leroy Merlin andKingfisher-owned Castorama were open in Paris and itssuburbs this Sunday, defying a court ruling on Thursday.

"The (Sunday-trading) law is a kind of machine that churnsout lawsuits," Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Europe 1radio. "Given that there are some employees who want to work andshoppers who today want to shop, could we not try to find somekind of path to an appropriate response?"

His comments echoed those made by a junior minister fortrade, Sylvia Pinel. "We have inherited a kind of regulatory'millefeuille'," she told Sunday newspaper Journal du Dimanche,referring to a layered French cake and the different tradingregulations that apply in various districts.

"We will now work with sector professionals to address thequestion of Sunday trading," she said.

A spokeswoman for the French Prime Minister's office saidthat ministers would meet on Monday to discuss the topic, thoughshe declined to comment directly on the government's position.

Despite the apparent flexibility on Sundays, Junior MinisterPinel said he would yield little ground on late-night shopping.

Apparently referring to a separate legal ruling on Mondaythat ordered LVMH-owned cosmetics store Sephora toclose its Champs Elysees outlet at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT) instead ofmidnight, she said, "Late-night labour must remain the exceptionin order to preserve the health and free time of employees."

"Flexibility is possible via employee-management talks butreforming this law is unnecessary... It is always possible towait till tomorrow to make a purchase," she said.

No one at Leroy Merlin, Castorama or the Elysee Palace ofPresident Francois Hollande was immediately available tocomment.

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