France: unprecedented national strike hits retail sector

strikers picket Carrefour

According to unions up to 80% of workers in supermarkets across the country joined in the strike action on Friday.

Submitted by jef costello on February 3, 2008

The strike was organised by the CGT CFDT and FO unions to pressurise management over pay and conditions, specifically part-time working and holiday working in a sector employing over 636,000 people.

The strike was especially strong amongst till staff, with unions reporting 80% observance in hypermarkets, 65% in supermarkets and 20% in the smaller chains. This last figure being caused by low staffing levels, many of these stores have fewer than 15 employees and strong anti-union and anti-organisational pressure. Supermarkets and hypermarkets account for 65% of food sales in France. On the logistics side unions reported 50% observance amongst workers. The CFDT reported that 468 distribution centres were affected.

Jérôme Bédier president of the retailers' and distributors' federation (FCD), claimed that these figures were inaccurate; reporting that only 2% of distribution workers were involved and that only 4% of shop staff took action affecting 7% of workplaces. He also asserted that rather than closed shops the action generally led to "disruption lasting between one and two hours".

Leclerc, France's largest supermarket chain refused to release information on the number of strikers. The second-largest, Carrefour, reported action at 110 of its 226 branches. Carrefour's Lingostière branch, the second largest in France, made only 3500 euros worth of sales compared to 550,000 on a normal day.Monoprix only 150 out of 20,000 workers took action affecting 12 out of over 300 stores. At Champion only 17 out of 1030 stores were affected according to management.

Workers are demanding increased wages after only receiving a 1.6% increase last year. Workers have already won a concession. The payment made to cover employee breaks will no longer be included by employers when monthly minimum wages are calculated. In addition management have shelved plans to drop this payment from 5% of monthly salary to 2%. Bédier's statement rather misleadingly described this as an 8% rise for workers.

Cashiers are also calling for 35 hour weeks, rather than contracts limited to 30 hours to avoid giving them certain rights; some 75% of till staff are on part-time contracts. They are also complaining about being forced to work part-time contracts and split shifts from 8am to 9:30pm. . Part-time contracts also impoverish workers by denying them full salaries.

At present there are fairly strict rules on working on Sundays and on public holidays. Workers are seeking to prevent these rules being undermined by management.Furthermore they are demanding assurances on job security as employers introduce automatic tills.

Bedier responded that 90% of workers were employed on a CDI (permanent contract) and that only 37% were part time, at least 60% of whom were so by choice. He also argued that proportionately none of their workers earned less than the minimum wage, avoiding the fact that by imposing part-time contracts just short of full-time hours they were keeping workers' actual wages below this figure.

The inter-union grouping plans to meet on Monday to discuss follow-up action.