#COVID-19 – A social emergency for millions of precarious workers in Europe

The Coronavirus is changing the world and the way people live together. Measures to contain and combat the COVID-19 pandemic have inevitable consequences on the working conditions of all workers. Being responsible to guarantee daily food supply to Europeans, EFFAT workers are currently very concerned by one of the most serious recent health emergencies: their income is at risk as is their health and safety in the workplace.

However, while governmental policies in Europe are progressively releasing their emergency plans to protect workers, these are mostly only relevant for workers with permanent contracts. EFFAT shines a light on the hundreds of thousands of precarious workers it represents, some of them being amongst the most exposed to the threat of the virus: domestic workers, food delivery riders and seasonal/temporary workers are working daily at the forefront of this pandemic. Yet, due to their precarious status, they have been excluded by several of the measures that have been taken. As usual, the most vulnerable ones are those that run the risk to pay the highest price.

Domestic Workers: As the outbreak intensifies across Europe, many of the 26 million domestic workers in Europe are confronted with a daily unfair choice: their income over their health. As a last resort, some employers, like in Belgium, are opting for choosing to grant domestic workers temporary unemployment. EFFAT looks with scepticism to such measures which, coupled to the extremely low wages of the sector, risk to push these workers into further precariousness. In Italy, the government has missed the opportunity to include domestic workers in the guaranteed redundancy payments schemes, increasing de facto the likelihood of layoffs.

Food Delivery Riders: As millions of Europeans live in self-isolation, the demand for food delivery riders’ services intensifies, and puts enormous pressure on them to bring meals to people’s homes. In these difficult times, EFFAT stresses that their already vulnerable working conditions are exacerbated by unnecessary risks of contagion. First, these workers should be provided with safety equipment as standard workers as well as with the possibility of self-isolation or technical unemployment. Moreover, EFFAT deems some of the employers’ initiatives to promote ‘contactless’ delivery as mere window dressing, de facto not ensuring riders a shield from the contagion.

Temporary / seasonal workers: EFFAT represents the workforce of some of the leading sectors of the European economy, including tourism and agriculture. Yet, these sectors are characterized by low and unstable pay, high staff turnover, undeclared, atypical and seasonal work. The COVID-19 outbreak exposes the absolute lack of guarantees of some of the most precarious contracts. For example, this pandemic is proving that zero-hours contracts, as largely experienced by our members, provide absolutely no security for workers. EFFAT firmly believes that they should be banned and replaced with minimum hour contracts which provide a safety net for workers.

Furthermore, as the harvesting season is approaching, EFFAT expresses its concerns over the security of seasonal agriculture workers. Firstly, many workers coming from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe might find it difficult to reach the workplaces because of the border closures of the transit countries. Secondly, EFFAT is aware that the risk of COVID-19 contagion adds to the recurring lack of decent housing and working conditions as well as acceptable sanitary facilities in the workplaces. EFFAT witnessed the lack of protective measures in many agriculture fields. With the current outbreak, lack of information about the pandemic and protective equipment to workers would lead to a real sanitary emergency, to the point that harvesting work might soon be no longer reasonable.

Amid this crisis and looking out for millions of precarious workers in Europe, EFFAT:

  • calls all COVID-19 affected countries to lead by example and to grant precarious workers the same rights and protection of the rest of the labour pool, by including them as targets of their economic contingency plans,
  • is calling upon all employers to commit to sick pay leave to workers exposed to the virus,
  • demands the prioritisation of the health of workers who continue to operate in the labour markets, by providing them with health and safety equipment and promptly implementing safety measures at work,
  • calls the EU institutions to provide support to companies and workers to tackle the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on employment and businesses (e.g. tax relief, short-or medium-term liquidity loans, temporary short-time work) and to support Member States to ensure their work force is protected and safe.

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