It's a risky business for scores of reasons but a struggling economy has meant an upsurge in travail au noir – working on the black. The Var has been especially affected as many unemployed at the end of their dole or those on particularly low salaries take on odd jobs (petits boulots) to bring in extra cash. As well as a growing number of moonlighters, there are hotels, restaurants and cafés that do not declare all of their staff, and even estate agents aren't immune to the practice in the Var.
The dangers for consumers are real. Not only do undeclared odd-jobbers mean that there is no legal protection against shoddy workmanship, but an accident can bring on unexpected – and disastrous – consequences. We know of a couple who were financially ruined when their undeclared gardener cut off his thumb with a chainsaw. Another family found they were uninsured because the fire that ravaged their villa was started in the kitchen by an undeclared cook. One British resident lost a valuable Picasso to water damage caused by an undeclared (and uninsured) worker who had in-competently repaired his roof. He is still trying to find the culprit “so I can hang his testicles where my Picasso used to be”.
In sectors such as domestic services “black” workers constitute as much as 45% and 31% of families admit they are ready to take on an undeclared nanny or cleaner if their purchasing power continues to diminish. Many schoolteachers don't mind taking on undeclared private lessons to round off their incomes either.
Manuel Falaschi, URSSAF director for the Var, says his inspectors are especially concentrating on two types of payroll tax fraud: undeclared activity by overseas companies and abuse of the Auto-Entrepreneur system. Undeclared workers – and those who employ them – can face back taxes, a €45,000 fine and up to 3 years in prison. One property rental agency in Nice with an office overseas, mentioned in our pages a few years ago, recently found out that this is no idle threat.