La Poste, fire service: where does money from calendars go in France?

The calendars are traditionally sold at the end of the year - we look at where your donations go

Some areas do not allow public service workers to sell calendars
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Service members from La Poste, the fire department, and bin men are among those who traditionally sell calendars at Christmas - but where does the money go, and what is it used for?

Homeowners who wish to support these service members at Christmas are invited to pay a donation or buy a calendar for the next year, but when handing over money, it makes sense to ask why.

Read more: Learn from the French: how Christmas étrennes gifts work

Postal workers: A 13th month salary

For many postal workers, the donations received and calendars sold equate to a 13th month of wages.

“The sale of calendars is essential for us," said one young postwoman in the south-west of France to Les Echos. “It's a great sign of trust and recognition that customers give us, especially during the festive season when it is a busy time.

“I have sold around a hundred calendars and raised nearly €1,300: by the end of the month, I will have made up almost a thirteenth month's salary,” she said.

Another postal worker said: “It allows me to buy my Christmas presents and put money aside.”

Managing director Christophe Rault said that La Poste sells around 10 million calendars each year, with a turnover of €4-5 million.

Four publishers sell the calendars, which the postal workers buy individually to sell on. They are supposed to stick to rules when selling them, including only selling to their usual customers, and only at times ‘outside’ their rounds.

“[But] in practice most don't do this,” confessed Emmanuel Cottin, General Secretary of the CGT postal services union in Paris. “We tend to turn a blind eye,” he said. “Salaries at La Poste are among the lowest in the country. The median salary is €1,700 gross, and I personally earn €1,540 after 20 years' service.”

However, Mr Cottin did say that the system was quite “opaque” and meant that some workers benefited more than others.

“We would prefer to see a real thirteenth month for everyone, which would be fairer,” he said. “We always work things out in the office so that everyone can benefit, make a bit of money, and at the same time satisfy the customers who want the calendars.”

Read more: La Poste calendars show 27 EU states - without UK

Firefighters: Station funds and orphan care

The firefighters sell the calendars when they are not on duty, either during their rest time or after their working day, and stay within their own ‘areas’ to give everyone a fair chance to sell.

The money raised by calendar sales tends to go to the ‘amicales’, which are associations in each fire station, run by volunteer fire brigades.

“Each amicale organises the sale of their own calendars every year,” said Frédéric Monchy, president of the national union of professional fire brigades, syndicat national des sapeurs-pompiers professionnels (SNSPP).

The funds help to improve working conditions at the fire stations, “for example, by providing childcare when colleagues are on call, or improving meals during on-call duty”.

The rest of the money goes to Oeuvre des pupilles, a charity for orphan children.

Binmen: Extra cash

Other service workers, such as binmen, may also sell calendars or similar seasonal gifts each year, depending on area. Some local authorities, such as Bordeaux, allow this type of sale.

However, beware. In Paris a prefectural decree in place since 1955 has prohibited municipal employees - including waste collectors and sewage workers - from taking part in Christmas gifts in the city. This also applies to employees of private companies collecting waste on behalf of the City of Paris.

Any workers trying to sell you something in an area where it is banned are either doing so illegally, or potentially trying to scam you - so it is worth staying alert to the rules in your location.

Of course, scams can also happen even in areas where workers are allowed to sell, so be sure that you have actually received your calendar (or similar) before you hand over any money.

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