Wage demands trigger strike action at fashion retailers in France
Waves of disputes have hit the mass market distribution sector in France in recent weeks, and worker demonstrations are now also affecting fashion retailers in the country. Employees are demanding higher pay and better working conditions in stores, at a time when inflation is weakening the purchasing power of low-wage earners. Galeries Lafayette, Zara and Primark have been hit by strikes and demonstrations outside their stores.
At department store group Galeries Lafayette, demonstrations kicked off in the flagship branch on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, on the Christmas festive season’s first day. On November 16, representatives from various unions gathered employees on the department store's ground floor, all of them unhappy with the €400 bonus promised to staff. The protest then spread to other Galeries Lafayette branches outside Paris, notably in Nice and Montpellier. A new strike is scheduled on Friday December 9. The Galeries Lafayette group did not wish to comment.
Spanish apparel giant Inditex has also been the target of demonstrations. On Friday November 18, about 50 employees congregated in front of the Zara store on rue Saint-Férréol in Marseilles to “ask for a salary rise,” as reported by France3 Provence. On December 2, Zara employees staged a “high-spirited, boisterous demonstration” outside the store on place de la Bourse in Lille, as reported by daily paper La Voix du Nord.
“[The group] has achieved a record year globally, growing by 41%, and by 10% in France, and yet it refuses to share. We received a 'value sharing' bonus of €350, when equivalent companies have paid out in the region of €1,000. Wages have been raised, but only by the minimum level stipulated through statutory annual negotiations,” said Imed Ben Ahmed, a representative of the UNSA trade union at Inditex, cited by La Voix du Nord. The newspaper said that Inditex management is calling for dialogue, having already made wage increases during the year.
On November 12, employees of H&M’s French stores also walked out, in disagreement with the salary increase proposed by the group. According to the CGT union, several H&M stores had to close on the day because of the strike.
Daily paper La Marseillaise reported that a one-day strike took place on Saturday November 26 at the Primark store in the Grand Littoral shopping mall in Marseilles. Prompted by the CFDT and CGT unions, employees of the vigorously growing budget retailer wanted to put pressure “on the group’s [French] management during wage increase negotiations,” according to La Marseillaise.
Outside fashion chains, disputes have been intensifying in various French retail distribution sectors, notably at budget retailer Action, at the Leclerc hypermarkets, at leisure retailer Cultura and DIY specialist Castorama. CGT has issued an appeal for all employees in the retail trade and services industries to strike and demonstrate on Wednesday December 7.
“It is well-known that employees in the retail and services sectors have traditionally been paid very low wages, and they are currently experiencing extreme insecurity owing to skyrocketing inflation in recent months,” said the union, adding that “wage negotiations and government proposals are falling far short of meeting their needs.”
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