EU Launches Bold Initiative to Safeguard Rights of Migrant Seasonal Workers

“EU Launches Study on Employment Challenges Faced by Mobile Low-Skilled Workers”
EU Launches Bold Initiative to Safeguard Rights of Migrant Seasonal Workers

Mobile low-skilled EU workers crossing borders for work are facing the same challenges as non-EU citizens in terms of poor employment prospects and low-quality jobs. The EU has recently launched a new study on intra-EU seasonal workers’ conditions, a follow-up to a comprehensive 2016-2021 study as part of a plan to view the issues from a longer perspective.

The new report on intra-EU workers expands on the previous work, and will contain focused analysis on areas of seasonal work that MEPs said needed further scrutiny. MEPs have sharpened their focus on the need to regulate and protect the rights of seasonal workers ever since the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened demand for these workers.

Around 800,000 to one million seasonal workers are hired in the EU each year, notably in the agri-food sector: 370,000 in Italy, 300,000 in Germany, 276,000 in France and 150,000 in Spain.

Earlier this year, MEPs in the EU’s Civil Liberties Committee voted by 47 to 13 to back new draft legislation to speed up the issuing of work and residence permits for nationals of third countries and to improve their rights. MEPs set a limit of 90 days for a decision on an application for a single permit, or 45 days if the applicant were selected through an EU talent partnership or already holds a single permit in another EU country. The single permit should be issued in paper format and be accessible in electronic format. The draft also gave workers greater freedom to change employer, along with nine months of unemployment benefits while seeking a new job.

Javier Moreno Sanchez, a Spanish member of the Socials & Democrats group in the EU. He was the EU rapporteur for the meeting that approved a draft on the new single permit, improving protections for seasonal workers. “We are making the procedure for obtaining a single permit as simple and fast as possible. This way it can become a useful tool for companies and workers from third countries, responding quickly to the needs of the labour market and strengthening legal paths to reach Europe in search of work,” said Javier Moreno Sanchez, EU rapporteur for the single permit meeting and a Spanish member of the Socials & Democrats group in the EU.“Secondly, we guarantee equal treatment of workers from third countries as compared to national workers, protecting them from exploitation and other illegal situations, while facilitating their full integration in our societies.”

The EU’s latest report on seasonal work will cover a longer timeframe than previous reports and it will aim to analyse the situation of intra-EU seasonal workers beyond the confines of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2016-2021 study found that inflows of working age movers at the EU and EFTA level declined by 21% and outflows decreased by 14%. Thus, the flows consisted in 2020 of 804,000 EU movers and 611,000 persons returning to their country of citizenship.

Some 57% of incoming EU movers at the EU and EFTA level were male. This proportion was particularly high in Eastern European countries, including Poland, Latvia, and Bulgaria. Only three member states (Italy, Greece, and Ireland) reported more working-age women than men moving into the country.

The 2016-2021 study of workers crossing borders also itemised work categories. In 2021, the most popular occupations among EU movers decreased at the EU level across all population groups, such as cleaners and helpers (9% of all EU movers), building and related trades workers (7%), personal service workers (6%), sales workers (6%), and labourers in mining, construction, manufacturing, and transport (5%).

Of course, the EU has always had a need and a welcome for seasonal workers — both intra-EU and non-EU — with rules governing the protection of their rights, and with a wealth of variant rules depending on country of origin.

For example, Turkish citizens enjoy the same conditions as EU nationals once they abide by these rules: After one year’s legal employment, Turkish citizens can renew their work permit at the same employer; after three years, they can change to another employer in the same field; after four years, they gain full employment right in that EU country.

Meanwhile, the EU has agreements that nationals of other third countries can enjoy the same work conditions as nationals of the host country. Those countries include Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Russia, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Ukraine, Andorra, San Marino and 79 other countries in the African continent as well as the Caribbean and Pacific group of states.

Meanwhile, the new study of intra-EU work trends will focus on how intra-EU seasonal workers’ conditions have changed over time. Key questions include:  How the position of seasonal workers has changed in terms of rights and conditions, both in the short term since COVID-19 and in a longer, ten-year perspective;  Whether the number of seasonal workers (and hence their importance for the economy) has increased;  The main risks and challenges faced by seasonal workers and what ongoing work is addressing these issues. A final section considers how and whether the war in Ukraine has affected seasonal work in the EU.