Seasonal workers from outside the EU will be entitled to better working and living conditions, including proper accommodation and a limit on working hours, under a law passed by Parliament on Wednesday. These rules, the first to be agreed at EU level for these workers, aim both to end exploitation and to prevent temporary stays becoming permanent. The European Commission estimates that over 100,000 third-country seasonal workers come to the EU every year.
The new rules, passed by 498 votes to 56 with 68 abstentions, will not affect the right of member states to decide how many seasonal workers they allow in. 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 workers will be able to extend their contracts or change employers within that limit.
With these new rules "we have tried to say to the good employers of seasonal workers ‘carry on doing what you are doing’, but we have said to bad employers ‘you must have minimum standards to protect seasonal workers’. 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 Parliament's rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), in a debate before the vote.
"This is the first legal migration dossier since the Lisbon Treaty and we should be proud of it, because although it will not cure all the problems of vulnerable seasonal work and exploitation that we see repeatedly across the EU, we have broken a barrier and we have done it with great consensus", he added.
Work contract and decent accommodation
Any application to enter the EU as a seasonal worker will have to include a work contract or a binding job offer specifying essentials such as pay and working hours. At MEPs’ request, it will also have to include evidence that the worker will have appropriate accommodation. Where accommodation is arranged by the employer, the rent must not be excessive or be automatically deducted from a worker’s wage, says the text.
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.
Employers in breach of their obligations will face “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties and will have to compensate the seasonal worker concerned. Sub-contractors may also face penalties. Employers could also be banned from employing seasonal workers.
Faster procedures for returning applicants
The new rules will simplify and speed up procedures allowing non-EU seasonal workers to return to the EU for temporary stays and work. This may be done by speeding up paperwork for returning applicants, giving them priority for admission or issuing several seasonal worker permits at once.
Member states will have two and a half years to put the new rules into effect.
Procedure: Co-decision (ordinary legislative procedure), first reading agreement