April 9, 2015 / 2:53 PM / in 3 years

Paris airport shoe-shine absence lends new twist to jobs debate

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris airports are among the world’s busiest and boast only the finest French fashion boutiques, but something’s missing that can be found in lounges across the globe -- a shoe-shine stand.

The absence illustrates the challenge of expanding customer services in the country, the head of the French capital’s main airport operator said.

“I would be happy to have shoe cleaners in our airports, but for me it has been impossible to find an economic model where people are willing to shine shoes in haughty France,” said Augustin de Romanet, chief executive of Aeroports de Paris.

“It is an example of the fact that in France, service is often considered as servitude so it is harder to offer day-to-day services,” he told a conference in Paris hosted by The Economist.

ADP, which runs Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, is focusing on boosting services to diversify revenues while competing with other hubs.

Jobs like the shoe polishing service are at the center of a long-running debate over what unions regard as a shift towards low-quality service industry roles.

Employers say more labor flexibility would boost employment but unions say poorly paid service jobs tend to come with a lack of security.France’s Socialist government has acknowledged that France’s labor market, governed by a 3,000-page labor code, needs to be made more flexible. It carried out a modest reform in 2013 and is promising to make it easier for some firms to hire and fire.

Romanet did not say whether the new airport concourse jobs would be offered with permanent or temporary contracts.

Future airport services could include more places to sleep for people on long connections, Romanet said.

ADP is making a particular attempt to cater for people from the fast-growing travel markets of Asia, with more vegetarian meals for Indian travelers and new direction signs in Chinese.

“In the future the airport will be a kind of small city,” he told the conference on the ‘Future of Aerospace’ on Thursday.

Romanet said retail and real estate revenues would continue to increase. Other forms of revenue such as landing fees and parking are regulated or pose problems in raising prices.

The former civil servant and banker dismissed concerns among U.S. and European airlines about competition from the Gulf, whose airlines and airports have eaten into their business, worsening trade tensions.

“Competition is good for everyone. Their demands have helped other markets to grow. For sure they are subsidized, but not so much,” Romanet said.

(This version of the story orrects first name in third paragraph to Augustin)

Additional reporting by Mark John; Editing by Keith Weir

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