A recent investigation by the UK’s Guardian newspaper found that thousands of non-EU nationals working in the Almería region in Spain were earning less than 50 % of Spain’s minimum wage and working over 12 hours per day. Classed as essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis, their work is crucial for securing Europe’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The European Union has competency on the promotion of employment and improved living and working conditions under Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union and Articles 9, 10, 19, 45-48, 145-150 and 151-161 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
On 21 September 2020, Irish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Billy Kelleher of the Renew Europe Group, addressed a parliamentary question to the European Commission.
The Irish representative enquired “will the EU launch an investigation into the treatment of these workers and the failure of the Spanish Government to protect them from exploitation?”
On 02 December, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson responded on behalf of the European Commission. Johansson’s response highlighted that “the Commission is aware of the challenging situations of seasonal workers in the Almeria region”. She shared that “the situation of seasonal workers is specifically addressed in the Commission’s Communication on seasonal workers in the EU in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, published on 16 July 2020” and “this document provides guidance to national authorities, labour inspectorates and social partners to guarantee the rights, health and safety of seasonal workers, both EU and third-country nationals”.
In particular, she cited that “the Commission also calls upon the Member States to ensure that employers, as well as seasonal workers, are aware of their obligations and rights” and “it also highlights that EU Directives on occupational safety and health and working conditions are applicable to all workers, irrespective of their citizenship and migration status”. She also sited that “the Seasonal Workers Directive (2014/36/EU) grants third-country seasonal workers falling under its remit equal treatment as nationals of the Member State in which they work in a number of areas, including social security and terms of employment” and “the directive also provides for specific rules as regards their accommodation, sanctions against their employers when they do not fulfil their obligations, and complaints mechanisms that must be in place”.
Lastly, the Commissioner declared that “these EU Directives must be implemented and enforced by the national authorities, including the labour inspectorates and the Courts” and “the Commission will keep monitoring the correct application by the Member States of the different instruments”.
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