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Non-EU seasonal workers would enjoy basic working and living conditions, such as a minimum wage and decent accommodation, under draft legislation endorsed by the Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday. These rules would tackle exploitation, while preventing temporary stays from becoming permanent. The Commission estimates that over 100,000 third-country seasonal workers come to the EU every year.

“We want to address the exploitation of third-country, unskilled workers in the EU by ensuring a basic set of rights and minimum working conditions", said Parliament's rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), after the committee approved his report with 52 votes in favour, none against and one abstention.

The proposed rules are set to be the first on seasonal employment at EU level, but they will not affect Member States’ right to determine admission volumes or reject applications if workers could be hired locally to do the job. EU countries should also be free to define seasonal work beyond its traditional link to agriculture and tourism activities, such as fruit picking, say MEPs. This should be done in consultation with social partners and ensuring that all activities have a seasonal aspect.

Work contract and decent accommodation

An application to obtain a “seasonal worker permit” should include a work contract or a binding job offer specifying essential aspects, such as pay and working hours, say MEPs. It should also include evidence that the worker will benefit from adequate accommodation. Rent should not be excessive or automatically deducted from a worker's wage, says the committee.

Social rights and travel costs

A seasonal worker permit will ensure minimum working conditions and social rights, for example related to pay or safety. Seasonal workers should have the right to join a trade union and have access to social security, pensions and public services, except for public housing and employment services. Travel documents will be granted according to length of the stay: a Schengen visa for stays up to 3 months and a long-stay visa or a residence permit for stays between 3 and 6 months.

The adopted text says that employers should pay for travel costs from the place of origin to the place of work and vice versa. Employers should also pay the visa fee and the cost of health insurance before the start of the contract.

Permit length and extensions

MEPs amended the Commission proposal so that a 6 month limit would apply over a 12 month period, instead of within a calendar year, to accommodate winter seasonal workers.

Seasonal workers could extend their contracts or change employers within the 6-month limit. Seasonal workers who lodge a complaint against a first employer should be allowed to remain in the Member State while looking for another seasonal job, says the committee.

Multi-season permits

The new rules aim at promoting non-EU workers’ movement between a third country and the EU for temporary stay and work. This would be done either through a multi-season permit covering up to three consecutive years or by simplifying procedures for returning applicants.

Sanctions, inspections and complaints

Employers and sub-contactors in breach of their obligations would be subject to "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" sanctions and would have to compensate the seasonal worker concerned. Employers could be banned from applying for seasonal workers for several years.

Member States should ensure that adequate and regular inspections are carried out and that seasonal workers may seek legal redress and lodge complaints directly or through trade unions or NGOs.

What's next?

Wednesday's vote in the Civil Liberties Committee gives Mr Moraes a mandate to start negotiations with the Council with a view to a first-reading agreement.

In the chair: Kinga Gál (EPP, HU)

Rapporteur: Claude Moraes (S&D, UK)