"Modern slavery", "harvest of shame"... A hundred people demonstrated Tuesday in Epernay (Marne) in support of the harvesters of the vineyards of Champagne, calling for a round table on "working conditions" and "accommodation".
They gathered at the call of the CGT, in front of the General Union of Winegrowers, representing the operators of Champagne. The CGT deplored that some providers house "people in sheds, on dirt", or even in "slums at the entrance of some villages" where pickers "sleep under tarpaulins, without running water or electricity".
The General Union of Winegrowers has indicated for its part to plan a consultation "from mid-October", in which the unions will be associated, in order to make an "assessment" and "decide on all the necessary measures so that such abuses do not happen again". "We will not sit idly by," added the employers' organization, proposing to "strengthen support and security devices during the harvest in Champagne".
Investigations opened for "trafficking in human beings"
At the end of September, the prosecutor's office in Châlons-en-Champagne opened two investigations for "human trafficking" after the Marne prefecture closed collective accommodation for pickers, deemed "unhealthy" and "unworthy", which housed seasonal workers mainly from West Africa.
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The CGT, announcing that it would be a civil party in these cases, also claims the payment of relocated seasonal workers, who have received according to the union only 3 days of salary out of 8. Calling for "specifications" to better supervise accommodation and working conditions in high heat, the CGT called for champagne producers to be "responsible" for the choice of their service providers.
Four managers of three wine service companies were sentenced in September 2020 to suspended prison sentences of six months to three years for providing labour employed in undignified conditions. Four people participating in the harvest in Champagne also died in September, some a priori by cardiac arrest, deaths that occurred in a context of high heat.