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More rights for non-EU seasonal workers

Seasonal workers from outside the EU will be entitled to better working and living conditions, including proper accommodation and a limit on working hours, under a law passed by the European Parliament this week.

The European Commission estimates that over 100,000 third-country seasonal workers come to the EU every year. The new rules, the first to be agreed at EU level for these workers, aim to both end exploitation and prevent temporary stays becoming permanent.  They will not, however, affect the right of member states to decide how many seasonal workers they allow in.

The following provisions are contained in the new law:

  • Each member state will be required to fix a maximum length of stay for non-EU seasonal workers, of between five and nine months over a 12-month period. These workers will be able to extend their contracts or change employers within that limit.
  • Any application to enter the EU as a seasonal worker will have to include a work contract or a binding job offer specifying essentials such as pay and working hours. At MEPs’ request, it will also have to include evidence that the worker will have appropriate accommodation. Where accommodation is arranged by the employer, the rent must not be excessive or be automatically deducted from a worker’s wage, says the text.
  • Non-EU seasonal workers will be given the same rights as EU nationals as regards minimum working age, pay, dismissal, working hours, holidays, and health and safety requirements. They will also have the right to join a trade union and have access to social security, pensions, training, and advice on seasonal work offered by employment offices and other public services, except for public housing.
  • Employers in breach of their obligations will face “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties and will have to compensate the seasonal worker concerned. Sub-contractors may also face penalties. In addition, employers could be banned from employing seasonal workers.

The hope is that the new rules will simplify and speed up procedures allowing non-EU seasonal workers to return to the EU for temporary stays and work. This may be done by speeding up paperwork for returning applicants, giving them priority for admission or issuing several seasonal worker permits at once.

Member states will have two and a half years to put the new rules into effect.

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