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Every so often, the British immigrant community gets its' collective knickers in a twist over British immigrants
'working black.' Now that the new category of 'auto entrepreneur' has come into being, making it easy to register, there seems to be no need for anyone to continue on the 'cash in hand and no questions asked' regime, but continue they do. I could understand it when, if you were mad enough to declare your business, you would find yourself with whopping social security bills before you had even started to earn, but now, with this system, if you don't earn, you don't pay, to put it somewhat simplistically, which seems much fairer.
My first insurance agent explained the French notion of working black when I asked him to recommend a roofer. In his view, if the artisan did not do some portion of his work 'black' he would never make ends meet, particularly if he was employing someone. So, the roofer would give me a quote for a part of the job, do all the job and collect the rest in a discreet envelope. This could only work if both parties understood the system and if the roofer did a good job, because if not, the client would naturally hold back the under the counter payment. Equally, since the local artisans did not know the British immigrants, a recommendation from someone like the insurance agent was necessary to operate the system.
Without the go between, the artisan would do nothing on the black and would charge an absolutely astronomical price for the job...as would any other local artisan approached by the potential client, because the artisans had a habit of fixing their rate to foreigners in a sort of informal committee. The advantage to the artisan of this way of working was that shoddy work would be paid for without problems, it being unlikely that the client would know how or to whom to complain.
Fifteen years down the line I am still on one artisan's blacklist because he installed a rooflight so badly that it leaked...I still recall Christmas dinner under an umbrella...and he had the sauce to charge me for his repeated attempts to put it right. My view is that I paid to have a rooflight installed, and, having paid his initial bill was not going to pay further. His view is that he was spending time on repairing his initial botch job and he wanted his time paid. Totally different cultural attitudes.
The rooflight was eventually repaired by another guy who had once employed the first artisan who had repaid him by pinching his client list when he departed to set up his own business....but you have to be on the local grapevine to get to grips with these little antagonisms.
While I mentally substitute 'buying a new car' for 'making ends meet' I can understand and work with the French system of working on the black....with the new system of detailed estimates and bills, however, which artisans are obliged to furnish these days, I just wonder if a job which doesn't appear to be covered by the materials used will be honoured by the artisan's insurance. Given the nature of insurance companies anywhere...but particularly in France...to whom the notion of 'honour' is unknown and unknowable, I have my doubts and can only hope that I never have to find out.
Further, there is always the bugbear of responsibility for accidents at work...in theory, if the roofer plunges to his doom because his boss uses crippleboards rather than proper scaffolding when repairing my roof, then I can breathe easy, secure in the knowledge that I will not be paying the hospital bills, the compensation for loss of earnings and anything else a clever lawyer can think up. But then neither will his employer...he'll just go bust.
What seems to occur to no one when this bugbear is raised is that if the French operated their system in a sane fashion, then an unregistered roofer who fell to his doom would be treated on the NHS without having to be part of some insurance scheme and a further top up insurance scheme and the whole affair of compensation would be argued out between two lawyers as a civil matter, rather than being treated as fraud - a criminal offence - as it is in France. The French system cannot seem to cope with the idea that individuals can make their own arrangements...everything has to be regulated in order to be taxed, and, at every stage, some third party has to be paid.
If I thought that French business taxation and social security practices were fair, then I wouldn't touch working black with a bargepole, but I don't think they are fair to the ordinary small guy working on his own or employing one or two others, and, as long as I get the 'black' discount for the job then I'll go along with it.
All this would apply to any British artisan who set up under the old, cumbersome and expensive regime...suffering under the same yoke as the French guy, I really don't mind if he makes some money on the side. The vital element in having work done in France is that, if it goes wrong, you have someone's name on a bill to whom responsibility can be handed over.....the boiler that has been installed is certificated for when it blows up and the insurance company say it is all my fault for using it in the winter months. Over to the plumber. I still won't have any heating for the rest of the winter, or, probably, a house at all, but I won't be paying the lawyers either.
As I expect I have said before...one does repeat oneself with age, it is reassuring to find that one is still of the same mind if not the sane mind...I am obliged to use someone in the system because although he is almost guaranteed to make a hash of the job, if I have to call on the insurers to put it right, at least I have a name and a bill to which to attach the problem.
The British black worker is a different kettle of fish. Over the years, I have seen so many set up round here, with little or no knowledge of the trade they profess apart from a bit of DIY on their own houses, but making hay from British clients who don't speak French and take fright at an estimate from a French artisan to whom they do not have an introduction and who thus will not give the 'black' service. Or who is just out to make a killing from the 'Rosbifs'.
For the 'little' jobs, they could be ideal....setting up the satellite dish, for example.
When I wanted mine regulating, I had the local French guy to give me an estimate. First, of course, he had to refuse to work with my satellite dish, bought from a DIY store....it was no good. I would have to buy another one from him at some astronomical price. I am now used to this nonsense and, without waiting for the rest of the spiel, about how I would need another stand...bought from him...and different cable...and probably a different television set, I sent him packing. There is a certain view round here that bills should reflect the size of your house. I do not share this opinion. If I had had a British guy around, I'd have got him to do a job like this as most British men seem to understand how to regulate a satellite dish....must be a question of sport....
As it was, the Turkish builder did the job while he was on site smashing the interior of the house. After overcoming the small problem that it was initially tuned into a Turkish language service, the dish was safely fixed to the wall of the outside two seater loo and has worked without problem ever since. However, this is the sort of little job that these freelance guys can handle, and it is the sort of job I wouldn't mind giving them when the French want to charge me the 'foreigner' rate.
I suppose I'd classify the jobs I would pay these guys for as being the sort of 'neighbour' jobs...things a good neighbour would do for someone needing a hand...and no one would be making a fortune from them.
Unfortunately, the British freelancers round here are as greedy as their French counterparts, which I do resent since they are not paying the massive French overheads, so they don't get my custom for anything. If I can't do it, it doesn't get done.
Thinking it over, I have always been relaxed about employing black labour. Given that governments waste most of the money they claw from our pockets, a bit less for them to waste won't make a great deal of difference. Given the tax breaks for the rich, a bit of back pocket money for the less well off doesn't seem such a crime, either.
I never took the risk of not declaring my income from holiday rentals, but the tax regime was pretty favourable there in any case...as a 'rentier' you count among the people the system is there to protect, not the people it is there to rob....although I know of a fair few British who made a packet from their holiday cottages without declaring a penny. All the taxman had to do was read a few British holiday cottage rental magazines and he would have made a killing...but then, the French taxman doesn't have any English, does he? Or any initiative.
Would I shop these people to the authorities? Probably not, even though their smugness can be irritating. But then I don't get my knickers in a twist about working black.
What I would like to know is why those who do have twisted knickers don't do something about the problem and shop those who don't declare their businesses. I suspect it comes down to the old question of group pressure and group vision that I have spoken of before and the widespread view that if you own up to employing them, you'll end up in court with them.