seasonal workers tell of their struggles to find a roof over the summer holidays

“In the restaurant where I work, there are six or seven employees struggling with housing. Around here, there is nothing for seasonal workers.” Kevin (his first name has been changed), a 31-year-old bartender, admits that he has “nerves”. Arrived from Vendée in March, he works until the end of the summer in a restaurant in the center of Biarritz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques). In the Basque Country as on the Côte d’Azur, in Brittany or in Corsica, there is not enough space to accommodate holidaymakers and seasonal reinforcements.

On the seasonal side, there were just over a million people on contract in France, according to figures from the Ministry of Labor for 2019. Among them, half work in catering, accommodation and leisure. For some, you have to leave your region of origin to migrate to more touristy areas. But when the employer cannot host himself, how to find accommodation for just a few months, the average duration of the contract being two months?

For Kevin, who works around 60 hours a week, the problems started after a dispute with the friend who was hosting him. He finds himself on the street in June. “I did a week in a hotel, and I posted a message on a good twenty groups on social networks”he recalls.

Nothing is obvious: “The owners make group visits, with imposed schedules, which is complicated with work. They offer student leases from September to June, or overpriced rentals with outlaw conditions, such as earning four times the rent and having a guarantor. All that for a room of 15 m2 at 850 euros per month”, he is indignant. Despite his salary of 2,500 euros net, Kevin had to be tricky. In parallel with his CDD contract, his employer provided him with a fake CDI contract to better apply for housing offers.

Luckily, it was finally without a file that the Vendéen obtained a sublet in a neighboring town, thanks to the trust of friends of friends. He in turn sublet one of the rooms to a colleague “in trouble”. But the ritornello of research is already starting again. Both will have to leave the apartment at the end of August, while Kevin’s CDD does not end until two months later. His boss offers him, however, for this time, a real contract in CDI. “But if I can’t find accommodation, I’ll leave. We don’t make you want to settle here.”

Refusing a contract is exactly what Anaïs did. A 31-year-old activity leader and lifeguard, she crossed the 800 kilometers separating her from her region of origin, the Northeast, towards the Var. Arrived on the spot, she claims to have been deceived by the employer: “We had agreed on certain housing conditions. In the end, it was a three-bedroom mobile home with three people. I left, I took this risk”, recounts the one who recognizes having the chance to do a sought-after job. A winning bet, she has since worked in a campsite near Fréjus, which accommodates her in “good conditions, two in an air-conditioned mobile home.”

Housing has always been the sine qua none of the seasonal worker for six years. “When you pass the agencies that the rents are 800, 900 euros per month, not counting the races which increase with inflation, the gasoline that I pay to cross France … The calculation is quickly done”, she raises before concluding. “If you are seasonal and you are not housed, you do not return to your costs.”

Sometimes housing is provided by the employer, but new problems arise. Paolo ended up dreading the indecent housing conditions. Since the Covid crisis forced him to close his pizzeria, the 33-year-old Sardinian leaves his island every summer to do the season in Corsica. A little over a year ago, he found a job with accommodation provided. “It was unsanitary, a container to be shared by two. There was nothing. A water pipe, but no toilets, no shower.” He too took the risk of leaving. Shortly after, another restaurateur offered him a contract with accommodation, a house for himself, “with toilets” he specifies. “I was lucky”underlines the one who recalls that in “Corsica, many people who work in the summer still live in poor conditions”. This summer, he therefore decided to return to work in the same restaurant, in Patrimonio, west of Bastia.

This may seem paradoxical. On the one hand, there is a lack of (decent) accommodation for seasonal workers. On the other, there is a lack of seasonal workers, since 200,000 jobs remain to be filled in the hotel and catering industry at mid-season. the accommodation is “for a very long time one of the major obstacles to employability, along with transport”, recalls Thierry Grégoire, national president of the seasonal Umih, the Union of trades and hotel industries.

Since the pandemic, the situation has become more complicated. On the one hand, employeesare no longer ready for all the sacrifices” linked to schedules that are often sectioned, staggered, during the holidays. The unemployment insurance reformhas also increased the time needed to be compensated from four to six months worked, in a sector where short contracts (two months on average) are legion.

On the other hand, the real estate market is increasingly under pressure. “Even more than yesterday, city dwellers bought properties on the coast. And Airbnb is pre-empting accommodations”recalls Thierry Grégoire, who urges the government “to legislate on the matter”.

Faced with recruitment tensions, the government will address “in the coming days” an instruction to prefects and rectors, confirms the Ministry of the Economy to franceinfo, without detailing the content. This instruction will allow “school and student accommodation not occupied in the summer can be mobilized for seasonal accommodation”already announced the Minister of Labour, Olivier Dussopt, Friday, July 22. What to prepare for the 2023 season, but wouldn’t it be too late for this summer?

Some municipalities did not wait for these directives to organize themselves. In fact, since 2016, each “tourist municipality” has the legal obligation to conclude “with the State an agreement for the accommodation of seasonal workers”, indicates article L301-4-1 of the Construction and Housing Code. This agreement includes “a diagnosis of the housing needs of seasonal workers”and determines a roadmap that must be achieved within three years.

In order not to confine themselves to public-private partnerships, the municipalities vary the solutions. Each location can be used. En Brittany, at the Dinard hotel school (Ille-et-Vilaine) or the Lamballe school (Côtes-d’Armor), boarding schools are available to seasonal workers, as well as a third place fitted out in a closed school, in Plouhinec (Finistère). In total, a hundred seasonal workers are housed there this summer, confirms the region to franceinfo.

Plan “Rent the summer” in Les Sables-d’Olonne (Vendée), “1 roof for 1 job” in Perros-Guirec (Côtes-d’Armor)… Locals are also involved, with the town hall acting as a matchmaker. The town of La Baule (Loire-Atlantique), which sees its population increase tenfold in the summer, has started. A dozen seasonal workers rent a room with locals for a moderate rent of 280 euros per month. This is four times less than the number of rooms needed according to the merchants surveyed.

But will these initiatives be enough to deal with the major housing crisis for seasonal workers? “It’s a beginning”notes the town hall of La Baule to franceinfo, evoking “other lines of thought for seasonal accommodation, such as the provision of premises or municipal spaces”.

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