On 9 October 2020, the Council of the European Union approved conclusions on “Improving the working and living conditions of seasonal and other mobile workers”. This follows the European Parliament Resolution on 19 June 2020 and the Guidelines on Seasonal Workers published by the European Commission on 16 July 2020.
EFFAT welcomes these conclusions that acknowledge the issues seasonal and cross-border workers are faced with. At the same time, we regret the lack of political direction for binding EU initiatives. In the part where Member States address the European Commission, we are missing clear reference to the need to develop EU legally binding measures on various aspects, such as decent housing conditions for all mobile workers, subcontracting and a digital social security number. As EFFAT has reiterated already in multiple occasions, there is certainly a problem of compliance and enforcement of existing national and EU legislation, but the challenges faced by mobile workers are also a consequence of the loopholes and shortcomings of the EU legal framework.
EFFAT warmly welcomes the invitation to Member States to cooperate with social partners, to promote collective agreements and support counselling services provided by trade unions or other stakeholders. Trade unions are often the only reliable information channel on labour and social rights for seasonal and other mobile workers. Trade unions are assisting workers on a daily basis in the fields, in production plants and on farms. They carry out awareness raising campaigns in languages mobile workers can understand. Trade union counselling services and campaigns such as Faire Mobilität (DGB), European Migrant Workers Network (IGBAU) or Ancora in Campo (FLAI-CGIL) are good practices that deserve further support.
It is also encouraging to see that Member States are ready to improve their own role in providing relevant information on rights and obligations, if necessary, with support of the European labour Authority (ELA). As language is key it is very positive that this should be in the own language of the workers.
The subcontracting practices make seasonal and other mobile workers even more vulnerable. EFFAT welcomes that Member States want to increase transparency on liability in the case of subcontracting and consider limits to subcontracting chains as well as joint and several liabilities. But Europe needs to go beyond and come up with binding EU initiatives on subcontracting leading to direct employment and introducing a system of full chain liability (see EFFAT demands on raising standards in the meat sector).
Another topic of utmost importance which was not forgotten by the Member States are temporary work and recruitment agencies. Specific requirements will be explored, and the respect of minimum quality standards and collective agreements shall be ensured, as well as no imposition of excessive or illegal fees.
Specifically concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, the Member States want to raise awareness among seasonal workers regarding safety measures and evaluate and address their specific situation in case of pandemic-related measures, such as lockdowns or border closures and the possibility to return both to their home as well as to their host Member State.
Focus is also put on the possible dependency between the employer and the worker in those specific relationships. Accommodation, transport and food supply are essential for seasonal and other mobile workers. Member States consider making them correspond to an adequate standard of living, meeting health and safety standards, and costs should not be excessive. EFFAT calls for binding EU initiatives on decent housing for all mobile workers.
Furthermore, targets are proposed for stepping up inspections; reflections should take place on social security legislation; upskilling and training opportunities are mentioned. Unfortunately, there is only a general reminder to evaluate the opportunity to ratify ILO Convention No. 184 on Safety and Health in Agriculture. EFFAT regrets this very weak reference to a Convention that would greatly contribute to improving health and safety standards in agriculture. The Convention has been ratified so far only by 4 Member States.
It is crucial that Member States called on the European Commission to work together to prevent sub-standard wages and other exploitative practices and human trafficking.
The focus of the Council Conclusions is clearly on better application and enforcement of existing rules. This is a huge step in the right direction, and we urge Member States to follow-up and implement these conclusions. But Europe needs to go beyond and in parallel amend existing rules and issue new legislation.
EFFAT calls for:
- CAP subsidies be made conditional on employers respecting workers’ rights and complying with applicable working conditions resulting from relevant collective agreements as well as EU and national social and labour law and ILO Conventions (see EFFAT demands)
- Binding EU initiatives
- on subcontracting – leading to direct employment and introducing a system of full chain liability
- on decent housing for all mobile workers
- on due diligence covering supply and subcontracting chains
- Urgent introduction of a European Social Security Number and the prompt revision of Regulation 883/2004 on social security coordination
A proper revision of the seasonal workers’ directive