Nothing to lose but your chains

The Les Menuires 7 - not on hunger strike then.

The middle of Les Menuires in February seems an unlikely place for a sit-in, if only because sitting in rather precludes getting out on skis. Seasonnaires aren’t generally the most militant of groups either, being chosen for their laid beck friendly nature and willingness to work upward of 40 hours a week for tuppence.

But it transpires that it is in fact possible to piss them right off and get your fingers royally burnt in the process. Step forward chalet operator Skithe3V, which this week made the mistake of adding insult to injury by refusing to pay its staff the tuppence they were owed on the grounds that they hadn’t taken the rubbish out or similar flimsy excuse, then summarily sacking them all by e-mail. Now I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of HR expert, but I’m pretty sure not taking the bin out is a long way from being gross misconduct, and last time I was charged with firing some vodka-sodden teenager there was an convoluted procedure involving interviews, warnings ‘opportunities to improve’ (by drinking less vodka) and a string of letters which the little toerag had to sign. E-mail did not feature.

Tents. Possibly not, in the Alps in February

Which is why the Les Menuires 7 have been occupying Skithe3V’s Chalet Georgina (much preferable to a tent outside St Pauls, it has to be said) for the past week, refusing their slavemasters entry and kicking up an almighty fuss on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and anywhere else they can think of including, rather quaintly, Radio Norfolk. The whole business even made it as far as the Daily Telegraph.

More seriously for both Skithe3V and quite possibly the rest of the UK ski industry, they managed to involve the French authorities, who take a poor view of contraventions of local labour legislation, and have insited not only that the staff are paid, but that they get SMIC at 9€ an hour the same as everyone else in resort, thereby more or less tripling their wages. On top of that, it appears that Skithe3V will in future be required to register in France, pay everyone properly and stick to legal working practices. So don’t be in too much of a hurry to book with them for next season, because I can’t see them lasting as far as the end of this one.

Coming hard on the heels of a similar situation on Alpe d’Huez where Take Me Too Ski (why do these firms have such bloody silly names?) went tits up, failed to pay staff and found the Gendarmerie on the doorstep along with the Inspecteur du Travail and a bevy of environmental health officers for good measure, this might prod the French into having a closer look at working practices amongst UK tour ops. Which will be bad news even for so-called ‘reputable’ companies, as I’m pushed to think of a single one which operates legally, though I did once work for a certain large and relatively well respected outfit which required its managers to run a fake rota and set of timesheets for the benefit of passing officialdom, so at least some of them clearly know what they ought to be doing, even if they’re not doing it.

Andy, your van needs cleaning.

I can already hear the bleating from the TOs (starting with Ski Weekends Overseas Manager, posting on the Seven’s Facebook page as Rp Chatters, for reasons best known to himself) – oh but we make such wafer thin margins, we’ll all go bust, they like it really, it’s an experience etc etc. Doing a month’s work for no pay before being thrown out on the street is indeed an experience, but I suspect it’s not one Mr Chatters would appreciate if it happened to him.

However much the tour ops might whine and wriggle, the fact remains that broadly speaking they break the law left right and centre, treat their staff like chattels and as a result quite frequently provide a poor service to their guests. Let’s face it, would you ‘go the extra mile’ (or even the first one) if you were getting £1,50 an hour and a bunk in shared sub-student accommodation? I think not. And don’t give me all that ‘it’s impossible to make any profit in France’ garbage either – the French are all out there doing it every day. Granted the model will have to change, but since that model currently consists of employing cheap staff to provide dubious levels of service, where’s the problem?

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About misplacedperson

Camping and snowboarding for a living. It may not be a career, but it's certainly a life.
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17 Responses to Nothing to lose but your chains

  1. As a transfer company operating here in France, we are and have to be legally French registered, have all proper licences and insurances, pay our French social charges etc….so why should tour operators working and running a business in France not have to do the same for their business.

  2. Andy says:

    Having been a vodka-sodden teenager under your supervision (Le Cairn, 03-04) I can testify to the somewhat fictional rotas that existed, especially when one’s head chef (who once made a cake for afternoon tea with garlic powder) breaks his arm, and then his replacement breaks his leg, leaving muggins here as ‘commis’ to pick up the pieces…

    PS I know I need to clean the van!

  3. beegeedee says:

    Amasing job by the LM7, I hope the support they have gained might lead to some changes within the ski industry in regard to the way that some companies treat and pay their staff. It seems to me that wages sit in a gray area overlooked by the UK NMW council as staff are seconded abroad, then neglected by local authorities as it is a seconded short term seasonal job. If this means the prices go up a bit then so be it. The good companies will still retain their guests and probably more so with more motivated and more professional staff.

    • As I understand it they shouldn’t be seconded abroad at all, as you can only do that with existing staff, not those you’ve taken on specifically.

      • EvanS says:

        You are, I believe, supposed to have a long-term – ie, a year – contract in order to justify being seconded abroad. And that isn’t going to happen …

  4. > chalets and fire regulations.
    Not just chalets, I recall a fire alarm going off in a hotel, and being unable to get out of the bottom of the fire exit staircase as it was being used to store trollies full of dirty laundry ready for pickup the next morning. Even more annoying, it was the bloody staff having a crafty fag that set off the smoke alarm, grrr

    • Hotels do generally comply though, and are subject to regular inspection. You should have heard the squealing when there was a suggestion that chalets should conform to the same fire regs as chambres d’hotes.

  5. EvanS says:

    Can’t argue with any of that. I’m happy doing what I’m doing but I made an informed choice …

  6. Anita Mac says:

    Wow – crazy that they could get away with not paying the people a fair wage for the entire season, and not even be registered in France!

  7. oldbaldygit says:

    Seasonnaires………. chosen for their “laid beck” friendly nature…
    Is that a bit of Morningside up-bringing sneaking in to a socialist rant?
    Love the photo-shop of the tents: If i could take my french chalet to Balado it might make T in the Park bearable for an old git like me.

    • You have a French chalet? We should meet. 😀 More Penicuik than Morningside though, I’m afraid, so I’ll have to admit to lazy proofreading.

      • oldbaldygit says:

        Well when I say, “Chalet”, “A pile of stones that nobody else wanted to buy,” would be more accurate. Beginning to understand what the French really mean when they say, “Bon courage!”

  8. Newminster says:

    Interesting to see that this post has more comments than the last three combined — even if half of them are your replies.
    Sounds like you might have struck a nerve!

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