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The end of the British seasonal workers?

British seasonaires are being ignored by Brexit negotiations. This could leave 25,000 British workers unemployed next year.
Photo by Liam Campbell

As the nights draw in and the northern hemisphere slips into the cold of winter there is a group of people throughout the UK for whom hibernation is far from their mind.  Every winter around 25,000 people travel from the UK to work in the EU in seasonal jobs within the travel and tourism industry. This includes instructors, chalet hosts, bar staff, musicians, maintenance and managers. The list of potential jobs is almost as inexhaustible as the snow in the alps, or at least they were. WIth the end of free movement the idea of working a season may be a thing of the past. 

Since the beginning of the ski industry boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the UK companies have seconded their staff to France, Austria and Switzerland on British seasonal contracts. This means employees were hired in the UK and continued to pay any tax and national insurance contributions to HMRC, making it possible for companies to send their staff abroad giving British people the chance to live and work in a foreign country. 

If the chance to experience different cultures and take in incredible scenery didn’t sound good enough; companies generally provide a ski lift pass, accommodation and food as well as your wage. Alright, the pay isn’t the best in the world but when you have no outgoings, your wages combined with tips could see you through the winter in comfort with plenty of change to spend on a mulled wine on the mountain. 

‘Seasonaires’ as the staff became known spend winter in the mountains; summer on the coasts and rivers of Europe or some just stay in the mountains; providing the means of seasonal employment all year round. Seasonaires encompass all ages, backgrounds and all nationalities; they are all united by one thing, their love for travel and adventure. The chance to live and work abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. 

Photo by Liam Campbell

Following university I worked in a bar in the Spanish Pyrenees for a small independent chalet holiday company. The days were long, the work was hard but working in the mountains was awe inspiring. Hospitality was not a sector I had much experience in before but I found interacting with guests, the varied conversations and wonderful friendships that could be formed after only a week to be as exhilarating as throwing myself down a mountain on skis. 

I did further seasons in France and Austria before being offered a resort manager position. Eventually having shown my worth and understanding for the role I was lucky enough to land my dream job of thinking and dreaming of skiing full time by joining the team in the head office where I now manage guests bookings and run the recruitment for over 30 members of seasonal staff. 

The wonderful experiences and fantastic opportunities that have shaped my life may now be a thing of the past. The end of free movement of labour and the secondment of staff abroad means the British seasonaire could be a thing of the past, a huge disappointment not just to seasonaires but guests who have enjoyed the British run chalet holidays for decades. 

Without free movement employers such as me will find it very difficult if not impossible to second staff abroad. If a company wants to employ a British member of staff in France from January 1st 2021  it is likely they will have to carry out the following

  • Advertise for eight weeks in France and show proof that no French person can fill this role
  • Apply for a work permit (this can take up to three months) 
  • The member of staff must go to in person to the French embassy to apply for a visa before they can enter the country

Note. At any point in this process the application for that individual can be rejected 

This makes it very risky to employ British staff because even after the long and arduous process of recruitment and visas there is no guarantee a visa would be offered; meaning it’s pretty much game over for the British seasonaire.

Ski seasons are not just an excuse for people to enjoy themselves; they provide an opportunity, particularly for young people to learn life skills and build self-confidence and for the lucky few like myself, an opportunity to make a career out of it. 

These skills and experiences whilst not a trade, with no certificate or diploma on offer are transferable benefiting their future employers. Young people learn to think critically, prioritise workloads and work independently gaining a sense of pride in what they are doing as they strive to earn their 5 star reviews at the end of the week. 

It is a tragedy that future generations will be denied this incredible opportunity to learn, laugh and grow as individuals working seasons. Some make friends for life and some find love for life. I found the benefits of working a season on a personal level are immeasurable. 

When you multiply those benefits by the 25,000 British seasonaires working in the EU each year, the new found confidence and skills they learn and bring back home is a major boon for the UK economy and their future employers. 

With the end of free movement, immediately; many people will lose their jobs. But far worse than that, is the fact young people in the future will not have the same chances opportunities I had to experience things which will open your mind to the rest of the world. 

This will be a regrettable loss to us all and is continuing to be ignored by the UK government in the negotiations with the EU.

With young people being the hardest hit when it comes to job losses as a result of COVID, it is high time for our Government to stop arguing about fishing quotas or breaking international law and do all they can to protect these 25,000 jobs which are disproportionately filled by young people, all the training and travel opportunities that comes with them.

If you have ever worked a season or you want your children to be able to have this amazing experience then please sign the petition

You can read more real stories from real seasonaires on The Forgotten 25,000.

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