Saturday, January 5, 2013

Seasonal tragedy

Two seasonal workers (a 21 year old man and his 17 year old girlfriend) died yesterday when the converted lorry in which they were living caught fire. It happened in La Clusaz, one of the increasingly popular Aravis resorts near Annecy. Many of these vehicles use paraffin heaters, and a large stock of the highly inflammable liquid would seem to have been the cause of the fire.

This terrible event serves to underline the precarious living conditions that many seasonal workers have to endure. There is just not enough accommodation at affordable prices for people wanting to come and work  in a restaurant, hotel, or in the case of the young man who died, as a lift operator (no, these people aren't lazy hippies, they just want to work and earn some cash!)

In Les Arcs, despite building a couple of 'seasonnaires hostels' in the last few years, it is well known that there isn't enough accommodation to match all the jobs that need to be filled. In order to try and move the long-established encampment at Plan Devin (Arc 1600), where often as many as 20 converted vans, coaches and lorries we parked, the commune set up a site between the old Renouveau holiday village (and therein lies a story for a future blog!) and the Canoe centre - needless to say well away from the actual Arc resorts, the town and centre and quite a long walk from the funicular. The Plan Devin encampment seems to have sprung up again, and we wish the best of luck to anyone prepared to  live in a converted UPS van in a windy spot 1600m up on the north side of the mountain.

Last season, during the extreme cold spell from the middle of January to the end of February the commune realised there could be a problem with heating - not that the vans could catch fire but that the inhabitants might perish as the night temperatures hit -28c and it didn't go above -5c for three weeks. So they opened up a nearby electricity sub-station and gave a free supply to all the campers, and where necessary provided them with safe electric heater. It was the right, and humane, thing to do.

I wonder if, in the light of the La Clusaz tragedy, they will do the same this year? I hope so. But what needs to be addressed is the whole issue of providing decent accommodation within the resorts. Look at all the empty, unsold apartments in Bourg (in the Coeur d'Or development for example) and 'cold beds' in Arc 1950 - why not commandeer these for seasonnaires, who would be able to pay a reasonable rent? And what about the 1000 or so beds now vacant in the old 7BCA barracks, and the block of flats adjoining the old Gendarmerie (empty for 2 years now)?  Perhaps there isn't really a shortage of accommodation at all, it's just all in the wrong hands.

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