PARIS - France's Socialist government is to maintain most of the existing restrictions on Sunday shopping, despite criticism that they are ill-suited to a country battling record unemployment.
Speaking after the publication of a government-sponsored report which called for a partial easing of the curbs, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the government would legislate to clear up anomalies in the patchwork of local and national rules governing Sunday trading.
But he said the principle of Sunday being a day of rest would be maintained and rules requiring workers to be paid at higher rates for Sunday shifts would be tightened up.
"The issue is not so much extending the possibilities of Sunday work.... but doing so in better, simpler and clearer conditions," Ayrault said.
"The principle will be no opening without something in return for employees."
Ayrault was speaking after receiving the report from Jean-Paul Bailly, the former head of France's postal services, which recommended that shops should be allowed to open up to 12 Sundays a year, as opposed to a maximum of five at present.
Under the current rules, most large, non-food shops are restricted from opening on Sundays unless they are in designated tourist areas or have received a special exemption from local authorities.
This has led to a situation where, for example, it is easy to buy plants on a Sunday but not a spade to plant them with.
Different rules apply to the shops in tourist areas, where staff can be expected to routinely work Sundays, and other zones, where it has to be on a voluntary basis.
And a recent court case highlighted how two DIY chains had been able to secure permission to open some of their shops in the Paris region, while a rival chain had not, leading the judge to condemn the existing situation as a legal mess.
The rules do not apply to shops selling food and drink, which generally open on Sunday mornings only, or to small corner stores.
About 30 per cent of French workers work occasionally or regularly on Sundays, according to government figures.
Most of France's continental neighbours maintain similar restrictions on Sunday trading but they have been relaxed in Italy, Spain and Portugal in the aftermath of the Euro financial crisis.