100,000 foreign seasonal workers in Europe are in a mess

The actual figures of third-country seasonal workers employed every year in the EU are very difficult to get, but according to European Commission calculations they would be around 100,000, excluding immigrants without papers. Nevertheless, the treatment given to these workers coming from non-European countries is not the same that the one given to their national counterparts. The problem seems to be labour market segmentation, that is, the existence of different contracts, and consequently of different salaries and rights for the same jobs in the same workplace.

Most of third-country seasonal workers in the EU find a job in the agriculture and tourism sectors, and also in the construction industry in the Nordic countries. The problem rises from a labour market that is a mess, which artificially divides workers into first and second class, also generating an unfair competition for employers.

Indeed, there are different types of contracts: posted workers, temporary agency workers, part-time workers, fixed-term workers, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees and so on. Additionally, the activity of foreign seasonal workers in Europe is subject to seven directives and nearly 200 national laws on different employment contracts and provisions.

In 2010, the European Commission made a directive proposal including working and housing standards specifically to reduce non-European seasonal workers exploitation, while satisfying this market needs. However, the Commission is now negotiating a possible modification of that initiative. Several NGOs, outstanding Caritas Europa, fear that short term economic interests “lead to consider seasonal workers as a ‘low-cost’ workforce, which could invalidate a long term appreciation of the EU as a human rights champion.”

Only in the Spanish province of Huelva (Andalusia) some 35,000 third-country seasonal employees worked in year 2008. Spanish members of the European Parliament have mentioned Huelva as an example for the rest of neighbouring countries due to its labour model of contracts in the original country combined with return arrangements. They assured that the minimum standards that the future European Directive should establish “are still fulfilled in Huelva”, and it works for workers and employers, and therefore “can be exported”.

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