- Herve Dewintre |
Do the storerooms situated in the basement of the iconic Paris department store Galeries Lafayette at Boulevard Haussmann (comprising three stores: Lafayette Coupole, Lafayette Maison and Lafayette Homme) present a danger to the staff of that celebrated and luxurious Parisian institution? The French Committee for Health & Safety and Conditions of Work (CHSCT, Comité d’Hygiène de Sécurité et des Conditions de Travail) is convinced of it; the management of Galeries Lafayette much less so.
A CHSCT is established in all establishments employing at least 50 employees, and the CHSCT of Galeries Lafayette has been in open conflict with the management of that great store since 15 June 2017. On that date, the members of the CHSCT voted for an assessment to be carried out to identify the risks to staff of working in the storerooms of Galeries Lafayette.
Built at the beginning of the 20th Century, the building in Boulevard Haussmann possesses characteristics that are often found in old buildings. But for the staff representatives, the greatest problem is not so much the dilapidation of the premises as the ‘blatant’ lack of space. “The question of the lack of space is as crucial, as is that of over-stocking,” explains David Pereira, a member of the CHSCT and staff representative, in the magazine L’Express. “This situation is especially acute in periods of peak activity such as sales, the Galeries Lafayette 3-Day sale or the Christmas and New Year season, and I’m not even mentioning the Sunday opening which requires even more items to be made available when the storerooms are already stuffed full and impractical.”
The company Galeries Lafayette has lodged an appeal
Two work accidents have already occurred in the storerooms, the first in 2012 and the second in 2016. According to the staff representative quoted by L’Express, both cases involved unsalaried product salespersons who fell from a stepladder whilst trying to get hold of an item of clothing. These accidents led to the dismissals for incompetence of the people concerned. The finding drawn up by the CHSCT is severe, with reference made to items heaped on top of each other and situated high up, fitting rooms that have become chaotic storerooms, electricity wires that hang down and emergency exits that are blocked.
The management of the department store refer to the fact that an assessment was carried out in 2010 and argue that this assessment gave rise to adjustments which make a further inventory of the condition of the premises unnecessary. In the process, the CHSCT has been prosecuted in the courts for abuse of the right to carry out an assessment. However, on 12 September 2017, the urgent applications judge at the Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Court) of Paris agreed with the submissions of the Health Committee (Comité d’Hygiène) of Galeries Lafayette and ordered a new inquiry, basing its decision on photographic evidence submitted by the members of the CHSCT. These are documents that according to the urgent applications judge indicate a serious risk for employees.
This initial victory by the CHSCT has not discouraged the management of Galeries Lafayette which has decided to lodge an appeal. However, as the ruling was immediately enforceable, the inquiry will nevertheless take place. It will begin next week on 23 October 2017 and last for 45 days. It will allow a full examination to be made of the area of 10,000 square metres which comprise the storerooms of this well known Parisian shopping destination.
Photo courtesy of Galeries Lafayette, dr