“We recruit from the age of 14”: when the farmers have to hire very young seasonal workers to castrate the corn

the essential
The maize castration season has just started in the Tarn and will run until the beginning of August. For this activity the peasants recruit young workers, looking for pocket money.

Manon, 17 and a graduate in professional aesthetics, wanted to make some money for the summer. “It’s complicated, many companies don’t take us under 18,” she says. After going through Pôle emploi, it was finally thanks to a Facebook post that she found her job. A farmer near Moularès is looking for seasonal workers to castrate his corn. She has been recruiting since the age of 16, so she jumps at the chance.

This activity consists in manually topping the male flowers on the female rows of corn in order to re-fertilize them with a different species, which significantly increases the quantitative and qualitative yield of the corn. It takes place every year from mid-July to mid-August.

First summer job

For this work, Manon will receive the minimum hourly wage (€11.52 gross). But she has no idea what she will get in total. Her employer explained that she would work on average every other day, between 8:00 and 11:00 or noon. “I don’t know how much I’ll get. It can go from 100 to 600 euros… It bothers me a bit, even if it’s still better than nothing!” slips Manon.

The operator of the Vergers de Técou, Gabriel Busolin, explains that the seasonal workers hired to castrate the corn can only work around thirty hours in the summer. This activity cannot therefore bring a real salary, but rather a small allowance, and a first experience in the job market. “It’s a bit of a trade-off,” he explains. “Someone with experience, doesn’t want to do that.” So Gabriel Busolin recruits from the age of 14. This is legal during school holidays as long as they last more than 7 days and the young person does not work more than 32 hours a week.

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He also had no trouble finding twenty-five young men to castrate the corn where he faces a severe manpower shortage in other seasonal pursuits such as apple picking or grape harvesting.

The problem with corn is that the farmer is regularly faced with the absenteeism of young seasonal workers. “And we have no power over that, other than to terminate their contract … but we need them,” he said.

Day to day

Part of the problem stems from the nature of the business, which requires the use of seasonal workers in rather unpredictable ways. The “right time” for topping the male flowers must occur at a precise moment in the maturation of the corn plants, which depends on the climatic conditions. It can therefore only be programmed two or three days in advance and, from there, the topping must be carried out in a very short time, between 12 and 48 hours.

Gabriel Busolin therefore calls the workers almost daily… and finds himself confronted with the unexpected events of young people, who, in the height of summer, also plan time to have fun and rest.

To avoid last minute cancellations, he revised the salary conditions of his hires. For this he relied on the specific salary grids of seasonal contracts, which provide for a discount based on age, i.e. 90% of the minimum hourly wage under 18s and 80% under 17s.

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If for a long time the farmer paid the seasonal workers full rate regardless of their age, he now conditions this favour. Those who “everything went well” are recognized, in the form of a bonus at the end of the contract, the difference between full salary and discounted salary.

“Before I started doing it, I happened to go from 25 seasonal workers to 10 in one week…” recalls Gabriel Busolin. This new salary system allows, in his words, to “keep up” with the young people who rely on this job to earn some pocket money.

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