Crisis provides France with homegrown grape-pickers

Tue Jul 28, 2009 3:33pm EDT
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By Catherine Lagrange

VILLEURBANNE, France (Reuters) - Wine makers in France's Beaujolais region hired 10,000 grape-pickers in a mass recruitment session on Tuesday, as unemployed or cash-strapped locals crowded out migrant workers.

Beaujolais, best known for its light red wines, is the only French region outside Champagne where grapes are still hand-picked, a low-paid, back-breaking job that used to be done by foreigners but now attracts more and more crisis-hit French.

Job-seekers crowded into a gym in Villeurbanne to meet growers who welcomed the local hires since they relieved them of the hassle of having to provide accommodation for workers.

"With the economic problems, hiring that used to be at the national or even international level is done more locally," said Patrick Lescure, director of the regional job center behind the recruitment session.

Apart from unemployed locals, students and pensioners, there were also workers who decided to take their holidays during the harvest season to boost their income.

Beaujolais wine makers intend to hire a total of 50,000 grape-pickers from all over the world for the harvest, which is spread out over 18,000 hectares (44,480 acres).

"I calculated that I could make 700 euros ($1,000) in 10 days by grape-picking, without losing my benefits, that's going to be helpful," said Marc, a 51-year-old who has been unemployed for four years and was hired as a cutter during the session.

(Writing by Sophie Hardach)