PARIS (Reuters) - France's labor minister called for local authorities to have more say on a proposed reform of restrictions on Sunday opening for shops, just hours before a government-commissioned report on the issue was to due to be released.
The report, expected to clarify which sectors will be allowed to do business on Sunday and under what conditions, will be presented to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday.
In an interview with BFM TV, Labor Minister Michel Sapin called for a "controlled relaxation" of the ban on Sunday work, saying it should be organized on a "regional basis".
He said local authorities were best-placed to gauge residents' shopping needs and habits.
"On one side of the road, it is open. On the other, it does not have the right to open. You have employees who are paid twice as much on Sunday, others nothing more. Of course today one must put some order in this mess," Sapin said.
Several DIY chains, including Bricorama, Castorama and Leroy Merlin, have been pressing the government to allow them to do business on Sunday to preserve jobs and fight competition from Internet retailers working seven days a week.
France's unemployment rate, now at 10.9 percent and close to the all-time high of 11.2 percent set in 1997, is a thorn in the side of President Francois Hollande, who has staked his credibility on turning around the euro zone's second-biggest economy and lowering the jobless total.
Last week Hollande backed away from his pledge to bring unemployment down by the end of the year, saying instead that it would take as long as necessary.
According to French daily Les Echos, the Bailly report will not include sectors other than those which in 2009 received exemptions to the ban on Sunday work such as furniture and gardening retailers.
Citing unidentified government sources, Les Echos said the report recommends denying DIY chains the exemption they want, but giving them a temporary exemption until the reform is completed.
The report also calls for allowing city mayors to raise the number of Sundays a year shops can open to 12 from 5, according to the weekly Journal du Dimanche.
Paris tourist hot spots Galeries Lafayette and Printemps have long been calling to be allowed to work more Sundays.
Younger employees appear to want a loosening of the rules.
According to a survey by French union CFDT, 60 percent of people under 25, a category with a jobless rate of close to 25 percent, favor working on Sunday.
But not all the workforce agrees.
"The majority of employees do not want to work on Sunday and want it to be clearly framed," Laurent Berger, CFDT secretary general told French radio Europe 1 on Sunday.
Reporting by Yen Le Guernigou and Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Alistair Lyon