Back in March, thousands of travel staff were among tens of thousands of people evacuated from ski resorts across Europe as Covid swept across the continent.
Nine months later, and many businesses could now face a battle to get some of these workers back on the continent and into resorts by the end of the year.
At midnight on 31 December, the UK’s Brexit transition period ends, meaning the provisions of the Posted Workers Directive will cease to apply.
Firms will no longer be able to “post” UK nationals to work overseas servicing hotels and chalets, without visas or work permits, while remaining on UK contracts and still paying tax and National Insurance here too.
It will disproportionately affect those aged 18 to 34 looking to gain the vital hospitality skills that, it is well established, help them go on to become future travel leaders.
Whether Covid allows a 2020/21 ski season is unsure, but for the 1.5 million Brits who hit the slopes every year, their mountain breaks may never be quite the same again.
A lack of posted worker provision will force firms to employ people on foreign payrolls, or employ locals instead of young Brits – some 25,000 of whom stand to lose out.
Beyond the operational impact, campaign group Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT) warns economies of scale dictate prices will go up.
SBIT director Charles Owen says the political will to come to an arrangement on posted workers has faded since February.
“This is not about immigration,” Owen says. “This is about young people working temporarily in Europe to deliver experiences holidaymakers adore, and in so doing, benefiting the UK and European economies.”
France, though, has said UK staff in-resort before 31 December can see out their contracts as per any other year. “How this plays out will come down to the risk appetite of individual companies,” says Owen.
However, France does not expect its ski season to start until January at the earliest, while quarantines and Europe’s second wave of Covid infection are hitting demand, Owen cautions.
Abta director of public affairs Luke Petherbridge says ad hoc agreements with individual EU member states will perhaps get the sector through the winter and summer seasons, which are likely to be heavily impacted by Covid.
He adds discussions are ongoing over a reciprocal youth mobility scheme. “We have these with Australia and New Zealand, so there is no reason not to extend that to European countries.”
Skiworld sales and marketing director Diane Palumbo says the damaging effects of the Covid crisis on all economies “may have sharpened people’s minds”.
“I wonder if the chances of a youth mobility scheme going ahead has now increased,” she says. “It will help our young people get employment, and help our economies recover.”
SBIT is urging people to support the Save Our Travel Jobs campaign at saveourtraveljobs.com.
Ian Hope, managing director of Ski Famille, tells TTG about the likely effect of not having an agreement on posted workers as of 1 January 2021.
“We operate catered chalets with childcare so we have a high staff to guest ratio. After 31 December, as things stand, we will have to employ people on French contracts. The biggest benefactor will be the French state.
“It also means an increase in costs outside our control. This will feed through to prices.
“For decades, UK plc has benefitted from young British seasonnaires fast-tracked hospitality experience. Many tourism bosses, myself included, started their careers in-resort.
“We need a fast-track mobility scheme allowing Brits to work in the EU for a season, bilateral agreements with other third country nations exist – we need to sign up to the same.
“Alternatively, if we have to employ EU nationals instead, we would suffer a loss of the identity those who have experienced catered chalet holidays enjoy and love.
“Meanwhile, British businesses will suffer a brain drain and a loss of opportunity for the next generation.”