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.
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.
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?