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Seasonal workers are not second-class employees

July 1, 2020

Harvesting potatoes, picking asparagus or processing meat: Seasonal workers and other, similar mobile workers in the European Union (EU) make important contributions and work hard. But the COVID-19 crisis has brought abuses to light: Their employee rights are often circumvented. Applicable occupational safety and infection control regulationsare frequently flouted. So, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) is determined to ensure good working conditions for each and every worker across the EU. We will make use of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union for this purpose.

A man drives over an asparagus field.

Mobile, cross-border work is a feature of life in the EU. Cross-border workers commute between two EU countries for their work; seasonal workers travel to another EU Member State to work for a limited period; and other mobile employees work temporarily in another EU state: they are the living embodiment of an open Europe and the fundamental right to free movement of labour.

However, employees from different Member States must not be played off against each other by bypassing the rules. They have the same basic rights as workers with permanent residence. The internal market needs fair rules for all.

During the German Presidency, the BMAS plans to campaign vigorously for seasonal workers and similar mobile workers. Many EU Member States benefit from the hard work of those workers. In Germany, for instance, seasonal workers are virtually indispensable at harvest time in agriculture.

Occupational health and safety abuses

The corona pandemic has, however, brought abuses to light, above all in the employment of seasonal workers in agriculture and among staff in the meat-processing industry. Substandard working conditions along with occasionally precarious living conditions have been exposed. The affected workers, who in Germany mainly come from Central and Southeast Europe, have at times been subjected to significant health risks.

These occasionally serious violations and the fact that such conditions can be found in several EU Member States have prompted the Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Hubertus Heil, the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, and the European Parliament to make the protection of seasonal workers a European issue.

We will take a strong stand against those who conflate free movement with exploitation. It is intolerable that the rights of EU workers from different countries are not respected equally. Just as there are no second-class citizens, there can be no such thing as second-class employees.

Federal Minister Hubertus Heil

Enforcing rules and monitoring compliance

Germany’s Federal Labour Minister and his European counterparts will therefore actively address the question of how to improve enforcement of good working conditions for seasonal and other mobile workers in practice in future. Other aims include reducing social inequality, preventing wage dumping and strengthening social protection.

There are no plans for new legislative proposals. “The laws are in place, but we must do more in the European Union to ensure that Member States enforce them and monitor compliance,” explains Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil.

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