Employees at French outlets of Marks and Spencer demonstrated clearly yesterday that the UK retailer's plans to close 18 M&S stores will not be going ahead as smoothly as it had hoped.

The beleaguered high street retailer had bowed to pressure from the French courts and agreed to attend a meeting with workers' representatives over its plans to close all its French operations and slash around 1,700 jobs. On arrival however, officials from the company found themselves alone because the workers failed to show up.

M&S has elicited much criticism over its perceived attempt to rush through restructure plans, and the French courts ruled that it must hold meetings to fully inform employees of such plans before they can be completed. This latest example of worker demonstration is evidence then of the French trade unions' intentions to dig their heels in and prolong what M&S insist is the inevitable closure. The retailer further insists that it has always intended to keep the stores open until the end of this year. 

The company responded to yesterday's abortive meeting by calling for the first full consultation over the plans to take place on 24 April. Whether this meeting will prove more successful than yesterday's has yet to be seen however, as trade union representatives remain adamant that M&S is still not complying with French law. Patrick Brody, secretary general of the Sycopa union, one of the four that sought the court ruling, commented: "The law says the dates have to be fixed jointly by the management and the secretaries of the local workers' committees and the central workers' committee. That hasn't been done yet."