EU : Good News for Foreign Seasonal Workers

Written by | Friday, February 7th, 2014

The European Parliament passed on Wednesday a new law guaranteeing better working and living conditions to foreign seasonal workers who come to Europe for work.
The new law which is surely good news for the estimated about 100 000 seasonal workers who enter the European Union every year puts an end to decades of exploitation of these workers who were forced to work extra hours in very hard conditions while being underpaid
The new rules, passed by 498 votes to 56 with 68 abstentions, provide for the first time an EU-wide mechanism for foreign seasonal workers, effectively giving them most of the rights that seasonal workers from EU countries enjoy, such as a limit on working hours, decent wages and proper accommodation.
“The law gives non-EU seasonal workers the same rights as EU nationals as regards minimum working age, pay, dismissal, working hours, holidays, and health and safety requirements. They will also have the right to join a trade union and have access to social security, pensions, training, and advice on seasonal work offered by employment offices and other public services, except for public housing,” says a European Parliament release.
According to the release, these rules aim both to end exploitation and to prevent temporary stays becoming permanent as each member state will be required to fix a maximum length of stay for non-EU seasonal workers, of between 5 and 9 months over a 12-month period.
These new rules are a warning to bad employers that they “must have minimum standards to protect seasonal workers,” said Parliament’s rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), in a debate before the vote. “These are not just paper rights – they actually give some flexibility which is essential for workers to be treated not just as commodities, but as human beings,” said the rapporteur.
Employers in breach of their obligations will face “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties and will have to compensate the seasonal worker concerned. Those breaching the new rules could also be banned from employing seasonal workers.
Member states will have two and a half years to put the new rules into effect.
The exploitation of seasonal farm workers and undocumented immigrants in southern Spain had made the headlines in 2000, when the assassination of a Spanish young girl by an insane Maghreban in El Ejido, in Almeria, southern Spain, ignited a wave of racist violence against these workers.
The reporters who rushed to the spot to cover the events unveiled to the world the shocking dire living and working conditions of these workers that some did not hesitate to describe as modern slavery.
Media reports had then commented that if the region of Almeria in southern Spain was described as “an economic miracle” since it was producing about one third of the fruits and vegetables consumed by Europe in the winter and earning the country two-thirds of its agricultural returns, it was thanks to the nearly 80,000 immigrants, who work in greenhouses, where the air is polluted with pesticides and where the heat sometimes reaches 50° Celsius.
The El Ejido events also inspired movie makers like Jawad Rhalib who shoot in 2007 a documentary film on this inhumane exploitation of men. The film was awarded the best documentary prize at the Ouagadougou film festival (Fespaco.)

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