With a fortnight to go to the opening of the ski season it’s beginning to look as if all the main Alpine countries have declared war on elements of the traditional British ski holiday, with both Austria and Italy now joining the fray.
First it was the French with their continuing ban on ski hosting. Then along came the Swiss declaring a minimum wage for chalet staff that sent the big tour operators scurrying away in search of fresh pastures. No sooner had they found them in Austria – with a dramatic increase in volume of skiers booking holidays there for this winter – than their new hosts come up with a change in the law that tolls the death knell for mid-prices chalet holidays in all Austrian resorts. It hasn’t happened yet, but it now seems that an amendment to the Austrian Anti-Wage Dumping Act is set to become law this Thursday.
The amendment means that the estimated 500 reps, chalet hotel staff and chalet hosts already employed for this winter by British tour operators will have to be paid the minimum wage for the Austrian hotel industry. This would be on top of the usual chalet staff salary package that normally includes accommodation, board, ski pass, insurance, travel and overtime shift payments. What’s more, Austrian employees get paid for 14 months not 12, so ski staff would have to be paid for seven months. For non-compliance, tour operators could face fines of up to 20,000€ for a first offence – on top of the backlog in wages and social security payments.
If the law is ratified, as expected, it will come into effect from New Year’s Day. Because of the short time scale it seems likely that some form of amnesty for this winter season will be agreed. Holidays this season are unlikely to be affected, but in the longer term such regulations would make it impossible for tour operators to continue to offer chalets and chalet-hotel packages in the traditional fashion on the present scale of reasonable prices.
Andy Perrin, British boss of Hotelplan which includes Inghams, Ski Total, and Esprit Ski said: “It’s one more kick in the teeth. We first heard about this only a fortnight ago and we are trying to make sense of it.
“We take extreme exception to the suggestion that we are wage dumping. On the salary packages that we offer, what our staff have in their pockets is considerably more than anyone on the minimum wage in the UK.
“We do not see this as the way to go about such far-reaching and Draconian change. We have staff contracted for the season and already in place in Austria. We have our first guests arriving in a fortnight and our brochures for winter 2015/16 are due out in three weeks. Yet these regulations supposedly start from January.”
And that’s not the only new front in the Alps…
British tour operators including Crystal and Inghams have now suspended all ski hosting in Italy as well as in France. The move came after the Ski Schools’ Association in Piedmont – this included Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx and the other Milky Way resorts – announced in no uncertain terms that hosts would be arrested, prosecuted, and fined or imprisoned if they took holidaymakers around the pistes this winter.
Both Inghams and Crystal said they were withdrawing their hosting services with great reluctance, but because of the threats to staff they were left with no choice.
You begin to ask yourself: does the rest of Europe want us to come skiing at all?