All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Black Friday

HighPeakRoofers28NovAImage via Wikipedia

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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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  1. It was GG on 'Not waving but drowning' who set me thinking on these lines....but she's not responsible for the conclusions!

  2. This is happening a lot in some of the tourist areas here, where the ex-pat ghettos are. British ex-pats setting up repair and DIY type businesses without registering them. And of course the non-Turkish-speaking ex-pats use them. If they registered they are obliged by Turkish law to have a work permit..not automatic even if they have a residency permit (and lots dont have those..they hop over to a Greek island every 3 months to renew their visitors visa..but thats another story). They are also obliged to employ Turks. It's also the law that foreigners, even with work permits, are not allowed to do a job that can be done by a Turk. But they still break the law
    and do it anyway.

    I don't disapprove of your "working black" system if it enables the French artisan to earn enough to live on. I do however disapprove of the system here that sees foreigners depriving nationals of jobs.

    Glad to see your Turkish man came to the rescue...bless him...always happy to help aren't they?

  3. Ayak, it's true, you can always depend on a Turk to help you out. What bugs me with the British freelancers is that though they're not taking work from the French in my ex neighbour has been waiting eighteen months for his French builder to come back and finish the garage he started...they try to charge top dollar when they're not paying the overheads.

  4. Have you ever wondered how we all live in big houses and drive expensive cars?

    "Install your satellite dish love?" "Course I will, do you want me to fix those loose slates while I'm up there?..... only another £100"

  5. Jimmy Bastard, I think I'd trust you rather more than some of the guys who claim to be plumbers, builders, carpenters, etc. who work in this area.
    French and British.

  6. "that if you own up to employing them, you'll end up in court with them"

    That's why I paid him in cash, gave him a flea in his ear and got rid of him.


  7., the local gendarmerie adjutant says that the thing to do is to think of someone else you heartily dislike who has employed the guy and denounce the pair of them....
    Sounds too Machiavellian for me and also, knowing France as we do, bound to misfire.
    Why, having made these draconian regulations, can't they find a simple way of enforcing them?

  8. Oh, and what I do object to heartily are those who are claiming benefit and also working, whether legit or black....they are cheating the lot of us.

  9. Good builders - like hen's teeth. Mine is a star but then it works both ways. I pay cash, bang on time and never quibble over silly things.

    We have a good system. I pay for the materials (getting my builder's trade discount) I also pay for all the sub contractors (electricians etc), I even pay his labourer direct - my builder only gets paid for his own hours. As a result he isn't vat registered so I save that too. I pay cash, so what he does with the tax is up to him.

    His has no incentive to botch or skimp because I pay by the hour and he has no incentive to go slow because I'm a good customer and he knows I'll drop him if he ever rips me off. Two years ago he learned a sub contractor had charged he extra hours so he went round and got the cash back for me himself!

    Works a treat - but boy is it rare.


  10. Mark, in the UK I had the good luck to have had two builders like that, solid reliable, honest workmen. My view too, what they do with the cash is up to them...not my responsibility to do the state's job.

    In France, there is no way that can work. This miserable money grubbing mentality does everything to encourage stagnation....and overcharging. I am lucky to have had the Turkish builder who is an absolute gem and a lovely man.

  11. With us right now, what we can't do ourselves doesn't get done either. But I'm lucky to have a handy husband. Although the fosse needs emptying soon and don't think he's quite up to that :)

  12. Framces, can you just imagine what your friendly neighbourhood 'Brit on the Black' would make of that job! And what he'd charge! And where it would all go!
    It might be a Bernard wonder the hedge looks so good up there...

  13. I had an expat (not on the black but registered) builder taken on to knock a window out and return it to a doorway it had once been. He gave a reasonable quote but under the proviso I helped as his labourer.

    Fair enough thought I, I am reasonably handy but had not done anything like that before. I ended up doing the majority of the work and actually pointing out a couple of things he should really have known. He buggered off (still bloody paid though) once it was clear I didn't actually need his help to finish the job off...

    My point? Even being registered isn't an automatic proof of skill/qualification.

  14. Steve, interesting website!
    Considering what registration consists of...a three days course on how to fill out the tax forms, I'm not surprised!