Migration and Home Affairs

Attracting and protecting the rights of seasonal workers in the EU and the United Kingdom

How are seasonal workers attracted and their rights protected in the EU Member States and the UK? According to a new study by the European Migration Network (EMN), many countries aspire to attract seasonal workers from non-EU/EEA countries to fill labour market shortages, typically in agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing sectors. Protecting the rights of seasonal workers is one of the objectives of the Seasonal Workers Directive (EU) which provides for equal treatment of third-country nationals, but also gives Member States power limit their access to certain rights.

Seasonal work is a type of temporary employment linked to specific periods of the year and to specific economic sectors (see also: definition of seasonal worker in the EMN Glossary). The EMN study focused on seasonal work carried out by third-country nationals. The study also briefly outlines the immediate consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak for seasonal workers, and measures taken by Member States to mitigate its effects.

  • Seasonal workers mainly consist of young adults, who are mostly employed in agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. They mainly originate from the neighbouring regions of the Member States receiving them, with Ukraine being the most frequent country of origin. In some cases, the main countries of origin are outside of the European continent.
  • Several countries have measures in place to attract seasonal workers to fill labour market shortages. These include simplified procedures, shortening of processing times, as well as cooperation with third countries. In 19 of the countries under review, the entry and stay of seasonal workers is part of the overall migration policy.
  • With the adoption of the Seasonal Workers Directive in 2016, the implementation of admission policies for this category of workers and the protection of their rights has received increasing attention. By 2019, all Member States bound by the directive had incorporated it into their national laws. The number of workers admitted under the directive ranged from around 300 in Latvia to more than 46 000 in Poland in 2019.
  • In several Member States, in line with possibilities granted by the directive, the access of seasonal workers to equal treatment is restricted, in particular, regarding unemployment benefits and family benefits. The definition of adequate housing for seasonal workers also varies across Member States.
  • Whilst the monitoring of working conditions takes place across the Member States, still, some cases of abuse might go undetected, notably due to limited awareness of seasonal workers about their rights.
  • The measures taken by Member States to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak include extension of authorisations for seasonal workers already present in the country, lifting of travel restrictions, but also a mobilisation of domestic labour to fill the gaps. In some Member States seasonal workers have gained more visibility and recognition from the public during the pandemic.

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