Seasonal farm workers in Germany exposed to ‘massive labour rights violations’

During on-site visits, representatives of the "Fair Agriculture Initiative" encountered "incomplete wage payments and excessive wage deductions" as well as "inadequate housing," according to a new report. [SASCHA STEINBACH/EPA-EFE]

Seasonal agriculture workers are exposed to numerous labour rights violations in Germany, according to a new report by the Fair Agriculture Initiative alliance on seasonal work in German agriculture. EURACTIV Germany reports.

As a result, trade unionists are asking the next government to implement the social dimension of EU agricultural subsidies as early as 2023 and not take advantage of the transition period granted by the Commission.

During on-site visits, representatives of the initiative encountered “incomplete wage payments and excessive wage deductions”, a lack of social and health insurance, and “inadequate housing”.

In 2021, the report found that the majority of seasonal workers employed for the harvest season came from Romania, followed by Poland, Croatia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Georgia.

Violations during the pandemic

The alliance also said that the number of seasonal workers remained high during 2020 when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Germany initially banned foreign seasonal workers from entering the country at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, after a short time, they were allowed to enter, under certain conditions, to prevent impending crop failures.

The report found COVID-19 measures were violated, and the state rarely inspected farms. According to Harald Schaum, deputy federal chairman of the German trade union IG BAU, this is possible by lax legal regulations and their lack of implementation.

“The regulations have become increasingly worse and watered down over the years; at the same time, there are hardly any controls,” Schaum told EURACTIV Germany. Law-abiding companies are thus competing with those that disregard regulations, and Germany is becoming increasingly unattractive for seasonal workers, he added.

New plan edges CAP negotiators towards deal on social conditions

The European Parliament has put forward a new proposal designed to link Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to social working conditions in an “easy and un-bureaucratic manner” in a bid to reach a compromise on what has become a controversial point in the CAP negotiations.

Implementing social conditionality

According to Schaum, the social dimension of EU agricultural subsidies must be consistently implemented by the next German government of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the business-friendly FDP who are holding negotiation talks in Berlin. Government controls must also be massively expanded, he added.

The current reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has introduced so-called conditionality. In the new funding period, this will be achieved through direct agricultural payments linked to compliance with specific minimum requirements for working, environmental, and animal welfare conditions on the farm.

Social conditionality increases “pressure on member states, including Germany, to finally sanction such violations with legal consequences in all vehemence,” Schaum said.

IG BAU’s deputy federal chairman also appealed to the incoming German government not to take advantage of the transition period allowed by the EU for introducing conditionality and to start implementing the measure as early as 2023.

So far, Germany’s plans for implementing the CAP reform do not foresee the new conditionality to be introduced until 2025. “The implementation of social conditionality should come today rather than tomorrow,” Schaum said.

The proposal to introduce a social component in the CAP was put forward by the European Parliament and pushed forward significantly despite EU countries, including Germany’s Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner being sceptical about it.

The issue of implementation at the national level “should not be underestimated,” Klöckner told the Agrifish Council in June, which discussed the provisional deal EU ministers brokered with the EU Parliament.

Mixed feelings in Germany over EU farm reform compromise deal

German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner has praised the EU’s compromise deal on the reform of the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), while associations and opposition parties criticised its shortcomings on organic farming and nature conservation. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Seasonal work on the ‘traffic light’ agenda

However, to create an effect “twice as strong” in addition to the EU’s social conditionality, there also needs to be an adequately staffed and efficient labour inspectorate in Germany that bundles control powers and competencies, Schaum said.

International cooperation with the European Labour Inspectorate must also be strengthened, he added. A new government would also have to ensure better compliance with the EU Seasonal Workers Directive, including third-country workers.

Among the three “traffic light” parties currently negotiating a new government coalition, both the Greens and the SPD advocate better working conditions in agriculture.

While the SPD’s election programme states that it will “fight precarious working conditions of migrant workers” and stand up for “decent wages and good working conditions for employees”, the Greens want to strengthen employee rights and ensure better health and safety protection at the workplace. The FDP’s programme does not mention this topic.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/ Alice Taylor]

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