The pickers

I glanced covertly through the leaves at the pickers on the other side of my apple tree and stifled a groan. I ought to count myself lucky I thought. At least we managed to find workers in the village, without having to resort to the local job centre. A neighbouring farmer had ended up employing “gypsies from Alsace”, after having no luck finding pickers in the surrounding area.

The same people came back to us year after year. The retired neighbour with the pendulous belly and the working mums who fitted in a few hours of picking around part-time jobs and kids. They all did their best I supposed and they were a happy bunch; but bonhomie alone didn’t get the apples into the bins and speed didn’t seem to be a quality that the French were well acquainted with.

Spaniards would work quicker I considered. Many of the larger fruit producers employed either them or the Portuguese, but we had nowhere to lodge them and anyway they wouldn’t come for just a week’s work. Our workers would be fine, I thought, if only they would pick a bit faster, but nothing I said could persuade them to notch up the speed. By introducing coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon, we had hoped to inject energy into the team. But it was hot and they were sweating and I knew that even a hit of caffeine and a biscuit wouldn’t suffice to increase productivity.

I tried not to think about what it was going to cost us in wages and taxes. The pickers were paid by the hour and whatever wage we paid them we would have to pay again to the French state. This was to cover such things as social security, which didn’t bother, me and unemployment benefits, which did. If the millions of French unemployed had less benefits they would be more willing to work. If they worked, we would have more choice of pickers, and speed rather than availability could become a prerequisite. We would finish sooner and it would cost us less. Or so went my train of thought, which seemed to run in a never-ending loop.

I gritted my teeth as the woman opposite me picked an apple. She turned it over in her hand as though pondering it, placed it gently in the box and slowly stretched her arm out to take another.

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8 Responses to The pickers

  1. tut-tut says:

    It’s hard to have people working for you who don’t quite “get” it . . .

  2. Lizzy says:

    Aaaaaaaaargh. I am annoyed for you. I would have a very hard time staying patient. They should be paid by the bushel!

  3. Kathleen says:

    Oh, how frustrating! I’m quite sure that those who work the farms in this country are paid by the quantity picked. I shudder to think what would happen if it were otherwise. Is the way you pay mandated by the government? It’s certainly not “employer friendly.” Hope you’re done soon!

  4. Mary Alice says:

    That was very interesting. I had never considered that if “unemployed had less benefits they would be more willing to work” Today I will be pondering on that and how it applies to Americans.

    My father was a home builder and I remember him asking a local finish carpenter how much per hour he charged. “Oh, I take whatever the customer wants to pay. I have my seven dollar an hour speed, my 10 dollar an hour speed and my 15 dollar an hour speed…it all works out the same in the end.”

  5. zuleme says:

    I was thinking of you when I was grocery shopping and found General Mill’s new “Fruit Ripples” 5 tiny pouches of dried apples weighing a grand total of 2.5 ounces and selling for 2.50. It proudly proclaims “1 serving of fruit in every pouch!”
    They have of course added extra sweetner with apple juice, too much cinnamon and sodium sulfite as a preservative. My own plain dried apples are much better.
    I couldn’t help but think of the profit margin. And of course it comes in a large box cleverly designed to look “natural”
    As I pick and dry the fruit from my three trees I will be thinking of you and your fifty tons.
    I do hope you are writing a book.

  6. meredith says:

    The social charges are too high in France, figuring out a way to lower them would do a whole lot lowering the unemployment level.

  7. cari says:

    The harsh realities of agricultual economics! Amazing how the problems faced seem to be the same the world over and the better social conscience a country has, the harder the lot of the producer! I echo Zuleme – I too hope you are writing a book – better yet, a series…

  8. French social charges I can hardly say the word without screaming. A few years ago I went and talked to an international lawyer about creating a company. I had the clients, the contacts and facts and figures. Success was evident. The international lawyer looked everything over, then looked up at me and said, Don’t create a company in France. They’ll take over 70 percent of everything you make…unless of course you are willing to work for pennies and give your reward of a profit to them.
    Business is hard to do in France, and I admire those who do.
    As for your apple pickers and the other workers in France that take advantage of the system…Shame on them!

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