TRAVEL / Where to find the fruit harvests of Europe

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The Independent Culture
ENDLESS sun and wine make the French grape harvest the most sybaritic-sounding summer job. But farmers who employ pickers stress that this is not a holiday. The long hours and back-breakingly hard work generally attract young and active people. There are many other jobs in the fields on offer, from banana-picking in Crete to raspberry-picking in Scotland. Some workers pursue harvests round Europe from vineyard to orchard to hothouse.

RED TAPE

An EC resident can work anywhere within the community for up to three months without a residence permit. Make sure you have a full passport, and a copy of your birth certificate and national insurance number. Work in Italy can be beset with bureaucratic problems. In Switzerland (outside the EC), you're supposed to get a residence permit in advance which covers the right to work.

GETTING WORK

Take enough money for the return journey home in case you fail to find work. Visit where you want to work before the start of the harvest. Go to the local employment office (EC citizens can use one anywhere in the EC), look in the local papers, go to the co-operative centres where fruit is collected, tour the farms. Speaking the language is an obvious advantage. Travellers have always had to compete with professional pickers from Morocco, Spain and Portugal. Now eastern Europeans, often happy to be paid less than any minimum wage, seek jobs too. Mechanisation, particularly for the grape harvest, has also reduced the amount of work available. You may have more luck finding work on sloping vineyards (as in Switzerland) inaccessible to machines, or picking other fruits (an apple picking machine has yet to be invented).

France: around 100,000 people work on the grape harvest alone. Write to the address on the label of your favourite wine, consult the French Yellow Pages, phone or visit local offices of the Agence nationale pour l'emploi (ANPE), the employment service. Get farm addresses and phone numbers from local tourist offices; ask at the mairie and the youth hostel; visit the farms. You might also contact the Centre d'information et de documentation jeunesse, 101 quai Branly, 75015 Paris for details of their regional centres and leaflets on agricultural work. Try also Sesame, 9 Square Gabriel Faurd, 75017 Paris (tel 010 33 1-40-54-07-08).

Greece: your best bet is to hang out at a farmers' cafe first thing in the morning at the right time of year. Central collection points in cities can be swamped with potential workers.

Italy: it helps to have a contact. Vineyard owners traditionally employ native migrant workers for la vendemmia (the harvest).

Switzerland: the number of foreign workers is strictly limited, despite low unemployment. But a needy farmer may take you on the spot and sort out any paperwork later.

UK: the most useful source of jobs is Summer Jobs in Britain 1992 (Vacation Work, pounds 6.95).

WHAT, WHERE, WHEN

Harvest times are approximate.

France: grape-picking takes place from mid-September to the end of October. The further south you go, the more mechanisation and consequently the less work there is; particularly avoid over-popular Provence. Head for Savoie, Alsace, Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Maize-topping takes place from mid-July to mid-August in the south-west and the Auvergne. Almost every region of France grows some fruit in abundance. There is often less competition than for grape-picking. Try the Loire and Rhone valleys.

Greece: there is lots of fruit to pick on the Peloponnese peninsula, especially oranges from Christmas to March around Navplion. Cherries, apricots, apples, pears, even watermelons need to be harvested around the year. Crete has citrus groves, bananas and tomatoes; grape-picking takes place in August/September.

Italy: the best opportunities are in Piedmont and the Alto Adige. The grape harvest takes place in September and October. For fruit-picking try Emilia Romagna, May to August.

Switzerland: grape-picking takes place in Vaud and Valais in October.

UK: many different parts of the country have seasonal farm work, from raspberry-picking in Scotland to the market gardens of East Anglia and the hops of Kent. Soft fruit is harvested between mid-June and August; hops, apples and hard fruits from late August to October.

PAY AND CONDITIONS

You are paid an hourly wage or piece rate - often about the same, though inexperienced hands can find piece rate hard going. Jobs with ladders (such as apple-picking) are notoriously badly paid as it takes so long to collect the produce. Portering is the preferred vineyard job - better paid and less crippling than picking. Poor weather can stop work, and pay. Take a tent and sleeping bag.

France: grape-picking is paid by the hour (the minimum hourly rate is 33FF, pounds 3.50). Accommodation is usually provided, if only in a dormitory, hut or barn. You may get a litre or two of free wine a day. Maize-topping, said to be particularly hot and tiring work, is paid on an hourly rate. For this and fruit-picking (usually piece rate), you normally fend for yourself.

Greece: work is often given on a daily basis. You're unlikely to get any accommodation, but you might be offered wine and lunch. Expect about 4,000-5,000 drachmas a day (about pounds 12-pounds 15). Rural parts away from oversubscribed jobs near towns may offer better wages.

Italy: wages are decent in Italy. You're unlikely to be given food or accommodation. Grape picking is less of a strain on the back as the vines are trained to grow upwards.

Switzerland: work is generally the best-paid in Europe, and good quality accommodation and board are usually provided for grape-pickers.

UK: the minimum hourly rate for casual agricultural labour is pounds 2.69 (pounds 1.74 if under 20), though most fruit-picking (hop-picking is an exception) is paid piece rate. This country has many so-called 'international farm camps', usually for young foreigners but open to UK citizens too. Normally, they provide board and lodging for a small fee, but you are likely to earn more elsewhere.

BOOKS

Work Your Way Around The World (Vacation Work, pounds 8.95) is informative and imaginative (it even advises you on how to fleece a con-man). For up-to- date information try: Summer Jobs Abroad 1992 (Vacation Work, pounds 6.95) and Working Holidays 1992 (Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, pounds 7.95). The Central Bureau (071-486 5101) has free leaflets on fruit-picking and grape-picking. The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley, pounds 25) pinpoints the vineyards.

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