Clamp-down on seasonal workers and undeclared work

During the summer of 2007, trade unions mobilised in support of seasonal workers, almost 30% of whom are victims of employer non-compliance with the labour code, according to the unions. A survey has revealed abuses of the social security system amounting to several billion euros. Some 60% of all seasonal workers are found in the economic sectors of agriculture and hotels and restaurants, and many of the workers are students or migrants.

In the summer of 2007, the Central Agency for Social Security Organisations (Agence centrale des organismes de Sécurité sociale, ACOSS) published the results of a survey on combating illegal work in 2006 (in French). The survey was carried out among 2,400 companies which engage seasonal workers, and its findings revealed that:

  • 26.5% of companies break the ACOSS rules, and this proportion increases to more than 60% in the Île-de-France region;
  • 3% of companies are suspected of fraud;
  • 10% of all workers are not declared for tax and social security purposes.

This means that the social security system is losing about a tenth of contributions, amounting to several billion euros that are intended for medical treatment, pensions and family benefits.

Profile of seasonal work

It is difficult to assess the prevalence of seasonal work given the variations in data pertaining to coverage. Nevertheless, figures from various sources indicate the following characteristics.

Firstly, seasonal work is mainly concentrated in certain sectors of economic activity. In France, some two million workers take up a seasonal job each year – 800,000 of them work in agriculture and 400,000 in hotels and restaurants.

Secondly, this type of work tends to attract migrant workers. In 2006, the National Agency for Welcoming Foreigners and Migrants (Agence Nationale de l’Accueil des Étrangers et des Migrations, ANAEM) identified more than 17,200 foreign seasonal workers in France, including 9,943 Polish workers, 6,169 Moroccans and 713 Tunisians.

Thirdly, a specific regulation applies to seasonal employment contracts. According to the governmental General Delegation for Employment and Vocational Training (Délégation générale à l’emploi et à la formation professionnelle, DGEFP), 400,000 people have a seasonal contract each summer.

The Labour Code (Code du Travail) defines seasonal work through the use of a specific employment contract for fixed-term temporary work, which has the following special features:

  • it does not include the right to the ‘insecurity bonus’ provided for in standard fixed-term employment contracts (Contrats à durée déterminée, CDD);
  • it does not provide for a compulsory trial period;
  • it exempts employers from paying overtime for working hours in excess of 35 hours a week, or even above the 52 hours a week authorised in some sectors;
  • it offers the possibility of including a clause renewing the employment contract for the following season.

The jobs and tasks that must be specified in the employment contract of seasonal workers vary depending on the sector (FR0003146N). Most of the working and employment conditions of seasonal workers are set by collective agreements, signed by the social partners in the sector concerned. For example, in tourist accommodation, management have to reserve at least 15% of their accommodation for seasonal workers.

Position of social partners

Three of the major trade union confederations are acting together in raising awareness on this issue. The French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) and the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO) carried out an awareness-raising campaign among seasonal workers. They distributed information leaflets and met seasonal workers, including students for whom it often is their first job, foreign workers and those who live exclusively on seasonal work. The trade union confederations listened to the workers’ stories and advised them on their rights.

CGT denounced cases of hidden work, whereby employers often recruit ‘half and half’ – undeclared and part-time workers – or use seasonal contracts illegally ‘in banks, supermarkets, local authorities and construction companies, thus avoiding paying the insecurity bonus’ provided for in a CDD.

The CGT-FO Confederal Secretary, René Valladon, considers that ‘the issue of employment contracts is a recurring problem’ in the same way that housing affordability and supply is. During the summer of 2007, Mr Valladon cooperated with the Polish Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy ‘Solidarność’, NSZZ Solidarność) in defence of Polish seasonal workers in France, by organising legal advice sessions in tourist regions.

The CFDT National Secretary, Jacky Bontemps, identified many cases of unfair dismissal but, at the same time, observed that ‘the number of disputes being taken to the Industrials Tribunals (Conseils de Prud’hommes) dropped from 600 three years ago to 300 in 2006’. Mr Bontemps concluded that ‘there is greater awareness among employers’.

Meanwhile, President André Daguin of the Association of Hotel Trades (Union des métiers et des industries de l’hôtellerie, UMIH), which is affiliated to the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), ‘condemned those who are involved in fraud and thus also in disloyal competition with their colleagues’. In Mr Daguin’s view, ‘the best way of eradicating this kind of fraud would be to reduce VAT to 5.5% in catering’; this rate currently stands at 19.6%.

Benoît Robin, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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