How we can learn from France's Sunday trading law reform

If you can change the Sunday trading laws in a country like France, where weekends are sacrosanct (but not sacred), then can we learn some lessons in Australia in the debate on penalty rates. 

©  AFP / Lionel Bonaventure

©  AFP / Lionel Bonaventure

On Monday I had the great pleasure to have lunch with Jean-Marc Todeschini, France’s veterans affairs minister. After dissecting Trump and Brexit, we turned our conversation to France’s presidential election and the candidature of the telegenic Emmanuel Macron on the progressive left.

The minister, visiting Australia as part of a remembrance tourism mission, while too diplomatic to offer a real opinion on Mr Macron (the assumed official Socialist Party candidate President François Hollande has yet to declare his candidature) did admit that Mr Macron’s packaging of issues was a skill few others possess. 

The Macron reforms, ushered through while he was economy minister, stripped away layers of red tape. A socialist was able to unpick tightly knotted labour legislation, mainly by explaining the need in clear, simple terms. There were winners and losers, he said, but overall the country would gain. His slogan? "Jobs and growth".

Open Sundays

Open Sundays

One of these reforms was around Sunday trading. He recognised that closed shops in France’s tourist hotspots was a poor look. There was a difference, he argued, between an urban workforce with choices on when to work and those in rural areas with fewer opportunities. 

In a recent major project for a client seeking to change the message on Sunday penalty rates, Message Shapers undertook an audit of comparable legislation in major economies. Of these, France’s Macron reforms, along with those from Germany under the Hartz labour rules, were drawn out as case studies. (Switzerland’s federal system, incidentally, is the only other jurisdiction to have industry-specific awards). 

Time will tell whether the handsome, marketable candidate from the left will make it to a second round showdown against the populist (and Brexitesque) Front National or face a Republican candidate, but his labour reforms will change France’s tourism product forever.

In Australia, it’s less clear whether sensible debate can take place. 

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