Coronavirus: European Commission calls for action to protect seasonal workers

The European Commission yesterday presented guidelines for the protection of seasonal workers in the EU in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. They serve as a guide for national authorities, labor inspectorates and the social partners to guarantee the rights, health and safety of seasonal workers and to ensure that seasonal workers are aware of their rights. Cross-border seasonal workers have many rights, but given the temporary nature of their work, they are more exposed to the risk of precarious working and living conditions. These conditions have become more visible due to the coronavirus pandemic, and in some cases have worsened and may increase the risk of developing foci of COVID infection 19.

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights, said: Every year, hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers help in extremely important sectors of the EU economy, such as the food sector and the agricultural sector. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the problematic living and working conditions these workers face and we need to work on that. Our guidelines are a reminder to Member States and companies that they must fulfill their duty to protect key, but vulnerable, workers.

The Commission monitors the proper application of Union rules on seasonal workers in the EU, and national authorities are responsible for the application itself. Appropriate measures are therefore urgently needed. The guidelines cover many aspects: the right of seasonal workers to work in an EU Member State, regardless of whether they are EU citizens or come from third countries, adequate living and working conditions, including limited physical contact and appropriate hygiene measures clearly informing workers about their rights undeclared work social security.

Action at national level: The guidelines call on national authorities and the social partners to take a more active role in ensuring the proper application and enforcement of the rules. Specific recommendations and proposals for action to be taken at national or EU level are given, for example:

  • Member States are invited to take all necessary measures to ensure decent working and living conditions for all seasonal workers
  • Member States are invited to raise awareness of occupational safety and health requirements for seasonal workers, thereby assisting employers in implementing relevant legal requirements and providing workers with clear information in a language they understand.
  • Member States are invited to provide practical guidance to smaller companies
  • Member States are invited to step up on-the-spot inspections to ensure the correct application of occupational safety and health rules for seasonal workers.

The Commission will continue to work with Member States, the social partners, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and the European Labor Authority (ELA) on this important issue.

The guidelines presented today reiterate the rights of seasonal workers, whether they are EU citizens or third-country nationals, including those who regularly work abroad on their own initiative or are referred, for example, through temporary employment companies and employment agencies. It is essential that seasonal workers and their employers have all the necessary information about the protection they enjoy and the obligations they must fulfill. More than 17.6 million EU citizens live or work in a Member State of which they are not nationals. Certain sectors of the European economy, in particular the agri-food and tourism sectors, depend on the support of seasonal workers from EU and third countries at certain times of the year. The Commission estimates that the annual average of active seasonal workers in the EU is between a few hundred thousand and a million.

The Commission monitors the proper application of Union rules and national laws concerning seasonal workers in the EU, and national authorities are responsible for their proper application. In order to protect seasonal workers, Member States are invited to step up the implementation of existing EU and national law and to step up field inspections in this regard, inter alia with the support of the European Labor Authority (ELA). These guidelines complement the Guidelines on the Free Movement of Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic, published on 30 March 2020, and respond to the European Parliament's call for a resolution of 19 June 2020 on the protection of cross-border and seasonal workers.

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