During a conference held for fruit and vegetable producers in Cavaillon, South of France on 19th November, Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of Agriculture, stated that he has asked the European Commission to define a directive for standardizing labour laws applied to seasonal work in the European Union.
Against the backdrop of controversy which followed the demand by Brussels for the reimbursement of 500 million euros in aid, the purpose of this request is to strengthen France’s competitiveness in the fruit and vegetable sector, heavily penalized by the cost of seasonal work, which is almost double that of neighbouring countries. Indeed, employer costs in France inflate the cost of seasonal work to around 11.50 euros per hour – compared to around 6 euros per hour in Germany.
Yet, as stressed by the Minister, “it is out of the question that we lower social standards and French labour standards and that we engage in practices which, from a strictly moral point of view, would be unacceptable in France.”
In reality, the situation in the fruit and vegetable sector poses a real problem: that of fair compensation for agricultural workers. Faced at the outset with falling prices on standard crops, and an increase in their expenses (particularly due to inputs), producers are unable to survive on their income. Producer selling prices for apricots, artichokes, carrots or nectarines are 30% lower than the average prices of the past five years; 40% of fruit farms disappeared between 1997 and 2007. Is it fair, that those who feed us and who by definition are the source of value creation in other sectors, should be unable to live decently of their labour?