France is a country known for its strict regulatory framework, put in place to secure that holy of holies: the French way of life. And what could be more associated with France and the things it holds dear than that staff of life—the baguette? Bread in France is all-important; it is to be protected and promoted. So long as no one has to work too hard to make it.
In what may seem like a strange conflict of competing values, France has a regulation that may surprise you. As it turns out, boulangeries staying open too many days a week is an unseemly faux pas that comes with the risk of being fined.
That's right. Four French bakers in Landes, which is located in the southwestern region of France, have worked far too hard. As a result, they have fallen afoul of French law and been fined. The bakeries stayed open and sold baguettes every day of the week—and that's a big no-no in la France.
Now, the bakers say, thanks to the fines they must pay, they may have to fire workers.
A 1999 law—no, we didn't say 1799—mandates that boulangeries must close one day a week. Evidently, the bakers in the Landes region did not do so, and a court in the city of Dax fined them €500—more than $550—this week and told them to shape up.
One of the convicted bakers said: "I have been left with a criminal record just for baking bread. Tomorrow I will have to lay people off."
Another told a French news site: "We are business owners who are disgusted to be in France. We are going to work less and therefore pay less VAT and less payroll taxes and if necessary we will have to lay off staff."
These were not just any bakers. Stephane Cazeneuve is a former holder of the "Best Baguette in France Award," which is nothing to sneeze at in the country where the baguette is le roi. He said being forced to close one day a week would cost him €250,000 (almost $282,000) and so he too would have to start firing workers.
"I have created jobs and wealth. I don't know why they preventing me from doing it," he said.
The French people are evidently at odds about whether their restrictive laws should be loosened. Economy Minster Emmanuel Macron has pushed for more Sunday openings of stores. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, opposes his position.
So do some worker's unions. They see the French regulations as a matter of preserving worker's rights. Eric Scherrer, from the retail trade union CLIC-P, told The Local that "There is a rule in place that says bakers and other professions in the food industry must close for at least one day a week. It's because it's an artisanal trade where people can work a lot, much more than the legal limits. These people need to have a rest day each week. We can't just allow them to work non-stop. It's absolutely necessary that both bosses and employees have a day of rest."
So what'll it be, France? Baguettes or a day of rest?
For now, the bakers in southwestern France will be reluctantly resting.