French tourism head pleads for immigrant workers


PARIS – France’s hoteliers and restaurant owners warned the government on Monday the tourism industry faced disaster unless it agreed to give work permits to hundreds of illegal immigrants who operate in the sector.

Up to 500 immigrants working across a range of industries launched a strike last week to demand that the government relaxes tough laws preventing them from getting residency in France despite the fact that they have regular jobs.

It is believed to be the first strike of its type in France and some unions have backed their cause, saying around 150 trades need immigrant workers to make up for a shortfall in domestic manpower.
The tourism industry says it is particularly reliant on foreigners to do lowly paid jobs like dishwashing and cleaning.

“If these people are not regularised then we will have to sack them and that will lead to total chaos in Paris restaurants,” said Andre Daguin, head of the French hotel industry association.

“We will kill off part of the tourism business,” he told RTL radio, calling on the government to give work and residency permits to between 50,000 and 100,000 immigrants.

“We need to legalise people who work with us, who pay their taxes and their social security contributions … who do their job well, who have never attacked anyone and who lead a normal life,” he added.
The opposition Socialist party and an array of human rights groups also demanded on Monday that the government show more flexibility in handing out working permits.

President Nicolas Sarkozy took office last year promising to be tough on illegal immigration and immediately set the police targets for expulsions of anyone staying without authorisation.

As part of the crackdown, the government told employers last July that they had to check with local administration offices to make sure that their staff had all the documents they needed to be working in France.

This has put the onus on businesses to root out any forged documents and is leading some firms to lay off staff.