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Posted workers: a French paradox?

At the height of grape harvesting season in France, Euronews was in the Touraine vineyards. Posted workers are a blessing for winegrowers as local workforce is scarce. But is it all that simple?

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Posted workers: a French paradox?

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  • According to EU Commission figures, there are over 2 million so-called posted workers in the EU. A hot topic at the next meeting of EU Labour ministers in October.

France is pushing for an agreement on a review of the directive ruling posted work: critics say it results in social dumping, in areas like construction, transports, or agriculture, while workers get scammed by unscrupulous intermediairies. At the height of the grape-picking season in France, Euronews reporter Valérie Gauriat was in the Touraine vineyards, where posted workers are a blessing for winegrowers who say they can’t find local workforce. But is it really that simple?*

In the vineyards of the Jacky Blot domain, Mladen Minkov greets our crew with a broad smile, while swiftly and carefully cutting sun-gorged grapes from the vines. He knows his job well.
He has been coming here from Bulgaria with his wife and one of his daughters for several years now.

After three weeks of grape harvesting , they will stay on to do other wine-making work on the property.

They say it’s a boon.

“There’s very little money in Bulgaria,” explains Mladen. “In France it’s good. We have two daughters. Afterwards they can go to the Institute in Bulgaria. We work here, earn money and afterwards she will go back to Bulgaria to study.”

The family is among the 12 so-called posted workers recruited by Jacky Blot, through a Bulgarian recruitment agency, to make up the numbers on his grape picking teams, about one hundred in all.

Harder to use just local workers

“There are 1000 barrels on the property, that’s the equivalent of 300 000 bottles now lying outside in the vines,” jokes the winemaker. “We can’t miss the harvest. Two days earlier is too early, and two days later is too late. It is vital to pick the grapes at the right time.

“Our profession is a difficult one. We are seeing year after year that it is getting harder and harder to make up the teams using just local workers, and we are having to look further afield.

“ I pay the temp agency 18 euros an hour, whereas the salary of a French grape picker, including social security costs, is just less than 13 euros. That’s an extra 40 euros per grape picker per day. I have 12, so that makes 500 euros a day more for each day the Bulgarians work. What makes up for that, is the fact that I am sure of having a reliable workforce.”

Nicolas Brunet, another winegrower, has also had to use the services of a Bulgarian interim agency in the past. Not any more though.

In addition to a team of travellers he has been employing for several seasons, he has taken on 2 Bulgarian workers on a permanent basis.

Nicolas Brunet is firmly against the practices of certain intermediaries.

modern slavery

“According to the system of posted workers, the person drawing up the contracts takes a cut, the person organising meals takes a cut, and the person arranging accommodation, which isn’t always very good, takes a cut,” he explains. “After that there are deductions from their pay slips for social security and unemployment contributions in Bulgaria or Romania, which rarely get paid. It is a form of modern slavery which shocks me. I don’t want to be part of it, and that is why I want my workers to be under French legislation and for everything to be clear for them and for me.”

Mayor of Saint Martin le Beau wants more controls

Later that day, euronews reporter Valérie Gauriat met up with Angelique Delahaye, the Mayor of Saint Martin le Beau.

She is an MEP, and also runs a large market gardening business. She often has to turn to using posted workers as she just can’t find the required workforce locally.

“ I must say that since the enlargement of the EU, the posted workers, who mostly come from Eastern Europe, are usually from a rural background and are therefore more inclined to accept this type of work,” insists Angélique Delahaye. “I believe that the real issue is the lack of controls within the member states. And unfortunately, it’s not within the prerogatives of either the European Commission or the Parliament, since it’s up to each member state to organise the controls of the directives which it integrates into its own legislation. So, if there are people who commit fraudulent acts in France, controls should be established and they should be punished. It’s as simple as that.”

I was a stranger to my son

Anatoliy Todorov has had his share of fraud linked to posted work. That’s why many like him have preferred direct contracts he says.

His aim now is to find permanent employment for his wife Petya, who is currently unemployed after many temporary contracts.

Their dream is to buy their own house in the area, and settle down with their son who arrived from Bulgaria a year ago.

“ My son was 2 and a half years old when I went to work in France for the first time,” explains Anatoliy. “When I went back to Bulgaria he said to me “I want another daddy” because I was a stranger to him. He grew up without me for 8 years, I was in France and he was in Bulgaria.
The most important thing for me now is to build my own house with my family. If I do so, it would be great, as it would be my own house. And then maybe one day have a bigger family, who knows…”

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