Alps: A British ‘rebellion’ vs ‘French protectionism’

On the slopes of one of France's swankiest ski resorts, a bureaucratic battle is raging between local authorities and British ski instructors that goes to the heart of Europe's labour laws.

Alps: A British 'rebellion' vs 'French protectionism'
British Ski instructor Simon Butler gives a lesson on the slopes above Megeve, but he has ran into trouble with the French law. Photo Simon Butler/Flickr

On the slopes of one of France's swankiest ski resorts, a bureaucratic battle is raging between local authorities and British ski instructors that goes to the heart of Europe's labour laws.

The latest shot was fired on February 18, at the height of the season in the resort town of Megeve near Mont Blanc, when British instructor Simon Butler was hauled off a chairlift by gendarmes.

Held overnight in jail for questioning, Butler, 51, is accused of breaching French law by teaching without proper qualifications, despite having the highest-rated British ski instructor's license.

Two of his employees were also arrested and held overnight, and four more questioned the next day.

As far as local authorities are concerned, Butler is a serial offender who stubbornly refuses to obtain the required qualifications despite repeated convictions and fines.

He is due in court on April 7 on the latest charge and faces up to three months in jail if convicted.

'In total rebellion'

"He is in total rebellion against French law," said Pierre-Yves Michau, the prosecutor in the nearby town of Bonneville.

But Butler sees more at work. He insists France is violating a key pillar of the European Union – the free movement of workers – and that he is being persecuted to drive away competition in Megeve to French-trained instructors.

"It's outrageous that I'm treated in the same way as a murderer, as someone that is breaking into your property," he told AFP at one of two chalets he operates in Megeve, a showpiece resort developed by the Rothschild family in the 1920s as an alternative to Switzerland's St. Moritz.

"They don't want us here. They want to have us run out of town," he said.

At the centre of the dispute are the different certificates issued by EU member states for ski instructors.

Butler and his team all have the level three or four certificates issued by the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) that are required by Britain to teach skiing on slopes like those in Megeve.

France issues its own certificates from the Ecole du Ski Francaise (ESF) and does not automatically recognise the British equivalents.

Read The Local's interview with Simon Butler – 'It's one rule for the French and one for everyone else'

Prosecutors in Bonneville have repeatedly convicted Butler for working without the French certificate, including last year when he was ordered to pay a €10,000 ($13,725) fine and given a suspended six-month jail sentence.

"Mr Butler simply does not meet the conditions to teach in France," said Michau, noting that there is no system of equivalents between different European certificates

"We are going in circles with Mr. Butler. We cannot allow him to continue working with impunity… It's not a question of nationality," Michau said.

Butler and his lawyers say France's refusal to recognise British certificates violates EU laws on freedom of movement, in particular a 2005 directive on Europe-wide recognition of qualifications.

Michau denies this. "If this is what he believes than he should contest French law and have France condemned by the European Union," the prosecutor said.

The dispute is highly technical, but Butler says it stopped being "civilised" when he was arrested in mid-February.

After being forced off the slopes and warned he would be put in handcuffs if he "caused trouble", Butler was taken to a local police station and questioned for eight hours straight.

He said he was then told he would be held overnight and put into a cell that was "well-below freezing", where he spent the next 14 hours before facing further questioning.

After about 36 hours in custody, Butler was taken to court in Bonneville and formally charged, ordered not to leave France, not to work as an instructor and to report to police once a week pending his trial.

"There is a civilised, more mature way to debate and discuss these things," he said.

Michau said Butler was a potential flight risk and that his detention was not unusual given that "he has up to now been in no way cooperative" with police.

Butler's latest arrest sparked outrage among some in Britain.

London Mayor Boris Johnson called the dispute "a complete, naked, shameless and unrepentant breach – by the French – of the principles of the European Single Market."

'French protectionism' 

"It is a simple case of French protectionism and racism rolled into one," said the deputy leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party, Paul Nuttall.

Butler said that after 30 years of working in Megeve he is considering moving his business – which employs 28 people and hosts about 100 guests a week from December to April – to Switzerland if he loses the case.

He said that would hurt Megeve, where he buys from local producers and where his clients pump money into the economy, because British tourists will stay away instead of using French instructors.

Angus Brook, on holiday from Jersey with his wife and eight-year-old daughter at one of Butler's chalets, said there was no doubt they preferred British instructors.

"There's obviously the language barrier which is the primary thing… It's a comfort thing especially for us with a young daughter," said Brook, 47.

"It does smack of a touch of monopoly, which in the European Union doesn't sound very fair."

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How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.