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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Les Bricoleurs du Dimanche

Last weekend we went off to the hardware/home improvement mecca, Leroy Merlin, to get some plumbing supplies and to return a chainsaw we purchased last month in a fit of new homeowner insanity.  As we waited at the counter my eye was drawn to a bright yellow flyer, "Rejoignez les bricoleurs du dimanche..." (Join the Sunday Do-It-Yourself-ers).  At first I thought it was an advertisement for a workshop for those amateurs nutty enough to think they can actually do plumbing as well as a professional.  But then I read the entire brochure and my jaw just about hit the floor.  Here's what it said:
"Nous combattons pour la liberté de travailler le dimanche."  (We are fighting for the right to work on Sunday). 
Car ce jour la, nous améliorons notre quotidien et celui de nos clients, auprès de nous, les jeunes font leurs premiers pas dans la vie active. (Because that day we improve our daily life and that of our clients - with us, the young take their first steps toward a working life.)
Nous voulons que la loi change et que le gouvernement nous permettre de pouvoir enfin dire "YES WEEKEND" (We want the law changed and the government to allow us to finally say "YES WEEKEND").
The pamphlet was signed by Le Collectif des bricoleurs du dimanche.  Who are these folks?  They are the Ile-de-France employees of two hardware stores, Leroy Merlin and Castorama (for you North American readers these are the equivalent of Home Depot).  French law for the most part forbids "le travail dominical" (work on Sunday).  There are some exceptions to this - restaurants, for example, or places that serve tourists or the media - but it was, until relatively recently, pretty universally respected and most stores were indeed closed on Sunday.  In recent times this has changed.  I've watched this evolution with more and more stores (especially the big chains) trying to stay open the entire weekend and many of them succeeding.

But the law is the law and the French government does crack down from time to time and that is exactly what happened to Bricorama.    They took it to court and lost and now they are calling for the law to be changed.  Bricorama's management argues that it wasn't fair that they be singled out and that being open on Sunday is actually in the best interest of everyone:  clients and employees.  To be clear, they and the other stores cannot and do not force anyone to work on Sunday.  The company has to ask for volunteers and they either get time off or extra money if they do put in the hours on that day.

This appears to be a unique situation where management and the employees are in agreement and so the employees decided to organize on their side to try to get the law changed.  And that was how the movement, Le Collectif des bricoleurs du dimanche, was born.   They are well organized - they have a Facebook page, they have pamphlets in the stores and they have produced a number of videos in support of their cause.  Here is one with testimonials from clients:

Le Collectif des Bricoleurs du Dimanche : le 9... par dm_50c5c5c37fbcb

Not everyone agrees that this is a good idea.  The CGT has a good tract here and they point out that the right not to work on the weekend was one that workers had to fight like the devil for in the last century. "En généralisant le travail du dimanche, c’est le libéralisme et le tout à la consommation qui priment au détriment des valeurs fondant notre société." (Universalizing work on Sunday is liberalism and all things for consumerism which rules to the detriment of the fundamental values of our society."  They argue that this "volunteerism" is a lie and that the big stores will use it to pressure employees to work weekends and more and more hours to their benefit and not at all for the good of the employees.

I see their point.  I worked in IT here for many years and attest to the fact that management quite often does just that - put pressure on IT workers to get something done over the weekend so that it's ready for Monday.  Easy to do when the work can be done remotely from home and the company risks nothing since work inspectors don't generally invade people's homes on Sunday to catch them finishing up a project. Much harder to pull off this kind of thing when it's a brick and mortar store where people have to be physically present to serve clients and the company can be caught and sanctioned.  So the question for me is:  Do we really want to give management a green light to generalize work on Sunday?

That's a tough question.  This is the 21st century and not the 20th.  Clients naturally like having more time on the weekend to do their shopping.  Employees like the idea of earning another day off  and of making a little extra money.  Companies want the business which is not a crime last time I looked.  Is it really so hard to consider that this might be a win-win for all parties?

So I'm inclined to come down on the side of the Collectif on this one.  I think the ultimate answer lies in keeping it exceptional, making companies pay for the privilege and ensuring that it's always a good deal for the employees.  The job of the union should be to make 100% that people are not being implicitly or explicitly pressured to "volunteer" when they would rather be with their families.  

I will add however that I am a bit amused that we are talking specifically here about not just any day of the week, but Sunday in particular.  I would never be a volunteer for "le travail dominical" simply because my Sunday's are already booked solid with Mass and a day of rest and reflection.  This is no longer the case for many (if not most) and I have no quarrel with that or with them.    However I do think it is worth reflecting on the origins of this day Christians call "The Lord's Day," which has been turned to a more secular (but still worthy) purpose -  allowing hard-working people time to rest and to be with their families.  As Chesterton puts it, "And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men."


Blaze said...

Canada went through the same thing many years ago.

In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Lord's Day Act violated Canadians' freedom of religion. The 1985 ruling examined the original purpose of the act. It found that the Christian value of keeping Sunday holy had been incorporated into a law that affected all Canadians, Christian or not. This law—the Lord's Day Act—prevented non-Christians from performing otherwise legal activities on Sundays. This was inconsistent with the Canadian charter.

It took a while, but most provinces eventually allowed Sunday shopping. It is usually a big shopping day and young Canadians simply can't believe it was ever any different.

I personally do not shop on Sundays. This is not for religious reasons, but because I simply prefer to spend that day relaxing or with friends.

The choice is what is important.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

That is just fascinating, blaze. I had no idea and I certainly hadn't considered how an enforced Sunday off could be discriminatory against those who would prefer, say, Saturday.

We tend not to shop on Sundays either.

What makes it hard here in the French context is the work hours and the commuting times for people in the Paris area. Contrary to popular belief many French people work very long hours during the week and don't get home until late. I have a family member who is a functionnaire (civil servant) and most days she doesn't get home until 8 or 9 in the evening.

This means that the only day to do any shopping is Saturday and believe me it is really stressful to be running about all day long on Saturday trying to get ALL the household shopping done alongside a few million other people trying to do the same thing.

So for those who want to keep Sunday a day of rest perhaps they might want to consider enforcing the work laws they already have and start making sure that companies let people off at 6 sharp so they can have a life outside of work and be able to take care of their families every day and not just on the weekend. When I was a young working mother with two small children here in France I would have killed for just that.

Blaze said...

Victoria, you have dashed my vision of Europeans working to live instead of living to work like ws seem to do in North America.

For the last few years, we have had a holiday n Ontario the third Monday in February. It's called Family Day. Most businesses are closed, but stores are open, which is not much of a holiday for people working in retail. Plus, if people are shopping, is that really family time?

Each year I say "We used to have a family day every week. It was called Sunday."

When I say that,, young people look at me like I'm an old fogey. (Maybe I am!)

betty said...

Virginia usa had blue laws. Only food and petrol. Rescinded about 1980.

Christophe said...

I totally agree with Blaze. The choice is what is important. After all, people should be allowed to work if they want to and need the money. As long as companies do not force, penalize or make feel guilty those who do not want to work on Sunday, then it should be allowed.
The problem is that it might be difficult to verify, and can lead to abuses.

With our busy schedules, it is difficult to run errands and shop during the week, after work, for those of us who work long hours. I appreciate the fact that in the US, stores are opened long hours and nothing is closed when we get out of work. And to take the specific example you described. When I "bricole" on Sunday, I appreciate the possibility of going to the store to get something I need, instead of having to stop what I am doing. Customers benefit from this, and I see that as a win-win-win for the company, the employee who chooses to work and the customer who needs something and was not careful enought to buy it the day before.

Some companies that have more religious values are closed on Sunday, even in the US.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Christophe, When I go to the States I really appreciate the fact that I can shop at 2 AM when I'm jet-lagged and have nothing else to do. :-)

Sally said...


Are the bricoleurs (or anyone else) allowed to do noisy things on Sunday, like hammering, mowing the lawn, etc.?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Not so much. A bit better now that we have a house. In general though there are rules that say that Sunday is not only a day of rest but a day of quiet as well.

John Pearce said...

While I appreciate the chance to shop at Home Depot on Sunday as much as anyone, I know that Sunday openings are the first step on the slippery slope to mandatory weekend work for employees. Business is business, and business in general would rather make Sunday profits than kowtow to employees (God forbid!) about their schedules.

French employees have considerably stronger rights and more power than Americans, but once the consumers get the taste for Sunday shopping their support will evaporate.

So far it seems they have it about right: Monoprix is closed on Sunday (in most cases); Monop is open. Limited stock, limited service, but you don't go hungry. And at least one of the three bistros in the neighborhood is serving.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@John I think I'm with you on this one. Not thrilled about the idea of work on Sunday becoming standard. I've been muscled into working on weekends by my employers here and I didn't like it much. But I did it and I knew in the back of my mind that they couldn't force me to do it which was something.

It was also exceptional and I think it should stay that way. There is the law and there is custom and the latter can be stronger unless it's undermined. Be sad to change the law and erode a fine custom that says Sunday is a day of rest for everyone.