Noisy protests greet buyer of first iPhone 5 in Paris

Protestors called on Apple to give them jobs because, they said, it had forced their former employer, an Apple reseller, out of business

The first buyers of Apple's iPhone 5 in Paris were treated to cheers, banner-waving ... and catcalls. Apple Store employees' cheers as the first customers entered the store were drowned out by chants of "Apple, your lay-offs are in the street."

The protestors are not ex-Apple employees, but former employees of eBizcuss, an Apple reseller that, the protestors said, was forced out of business earlier this year as Apple sought to clear the way for more of its own retail stores.

In France, eBizcuss operated eight Apple retail stores under the ICLG brand, all of which have now closed.

However, 75 of the former eBizcuss sales staff want to carry on selling Apple products, this time working for Apple, and they have asked an industrial tribunal to make Apple give them jobs.

They base their demand on the relationship Apple had with their former employer, saying that eBizcuss was forced to decorate its stores according to Apple specifications, to sell mostly Apple-branded products and to send its staff on Apple-provided training courses every three months.

If eBizcuss didn't follow Apple's rules, then it would have lost the wholesale price discount that allowed it to match Apple's retail prices, said one former employee protesting in front of the Apple Store on Friday.

With so much of their activity under Apple's control, they might as well have been Apple employees anyway, she said.

Apple's introduction of the Mac App Store in the Mountain Lion update to OS X was the final blow for eBizcuss. The switch to sales of software downloads, controlled by Apple, took away the revenue eBizcuss gained from sales of shrink-wrapped software, she said.

In April, eBizcuss filed suit against Apple at the Paris Commercial Court, accusing it of abuse of a dominant market position. The company didn't last long enough to have its day in court, though, as it went into liquidation at the end of May.

On June 19, some of its former employees filed complaints with the industrial tribunal seeking alternative jobs with Apple, which they said was their "co-employer." They expect the case to be heard in December, one of the protestors said.

Would-be customers heard the chanting on Friday as they waited to quietly to buy the iPhone 5. The first in line, Anthony Fitch, said as he came out of the store that he thought Apple should treat the staff better.

Some Apple staff think they should be treated better too. A trade union representing a minority of store staff announced Thursday that it had called for a strike on the day of the iPhone launch, and asked pickets to assemble in front of the Paris stores.

On launch day, though, there were no pickets at the Opéra store, which opened as usual, meaning Fitch could buy the phone for which he had travelled all the way from Rome.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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