Ski operators face existential crisis despite EU states’ concession

UK ski operators face huge problems seconding UK staff to work in the EU next winter despite a continuation of pre-Brexit social security arrangements.

Obtaining work permits remains the main obstacle, according to Charles Owen, director of the Seasonal Businesses in Travel group of more than 200 UK companies.

Owen told Travel Weekly: “A business in the UK that wants people to go over to France for a few weeks can keep them on UK contracts and not pay social security in France or Germany.

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“The EU-UK trade deal gave EU nations an opportunity up to January 31 to inform the commission they want to continue posting arrangements regarding social security. All EU nations have said they want that to continue.

“But social security is only one part of this. Work permits remain the biggest issue and the rules in every country for getting work permits are different. That has always been the biggest issue.”

Travel Weekly reported the comments of French lawyer Stephane Fressard of the International Travel Law Network (ITLN) last week, who said “secondment will continue as in the past” despite the EU Posted Workers Directive no longer applying to the UK.

Fressard acknowledged UK operators will still need to obtain work permits for staff in the EU. But Owen spelt out the difficulties, saying: “In France, you need to advertise on an employment site for eight weeks, then fill in a 17-page form and send it to the local prefecture. It takes three to four months if it’s granted.

“When you have a work permit, you need a visa. That probably takes another two weeks. The fact that the industry needs 8,000-10,000 of these [in France] means it’s not viable.”

He said: “We continue to talk to the French government and authorities to try to find a resolution, and that is positive. But if there is no solution, it is very problematic for the UK ski business.”

Owen explained the sector needs “a friction-free way” to send 25,000 seasonal workers to the EU “in a normal year”, adding: “It’s not just about replacing chalet staff, it will take out all middle management.”

He said: “We’ve already seen a massive cutback in the number of chalets operators are taking because they can’t take the risk of not having enough staff.”

The issue only arises from next winter because, before Covid-19 wiped out the season, France agreed staff already at work before December 31 could see out their contracts.

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