EU Proposes New Rule on Third-Country Seasonal Workers

Update February 2011

Debate is still at an early stage. Discussions at Council level have been left to the Hungarian government to organise (Hungary has the EU presidency for the first half of 2011). The Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee has appointed the UK MEP, Claude Moraes, to co-ordinate the Parliament's report on the proposal.

Tourism businesses could be affected by new European rules governing the employment of seasonal workers from outside the EU. A draft directive just published by the European Commission sets out EU-wide procedures for the issuing of work and residence permits to seasonal workers and defines the rights that the workers will have during their employment in the EU. The scrutiny process in the Council (member state governments) and the European Parliament will be getting underway shortly.

The main points of the proposal
• Seasonal workers will have to have an agreed work contract or binding job offer from their employers before they can apply for a work permit. Employers will also have to ensure that workers are provided with adequate accommodation at a fair price (if rent is charged at all).
• Fast-track procedure for work-permit applications - member states to issue permits within 30 days of applications being made.
• Seasonal workers will be issued with a residence permit allowing them to work for a specified maximum period (no more than 6 months) per calendar year. Once this period has elapsed, they will have to return to their home countries. It will not be possible to convert seasonal permits into permanent ones.
• It will be easier for seasonal workers to return to the same employer in subsequent years. Member states will have the option of issuing permits covering up to three seasons.
• To ensure fair treatment of seasonal workers, their working conditions (covering pay, dismissal, health and safety etc.) will be set down by member states
• and/or negotiated by them with representatives of the sectors concerned.
• Seasonal workers to be treated the same as permanent workers in matters such as social security, statutory pensions and freedom to join unions etc..
• These new provisions will not apply in the UK, Ireland and Denmark.

Background information
The directive has been proposed as a way of dealing with skills shortages in the EU and meeting, in the Commission's words, "the structural need for seasonal work for which labour from within the EU is expected to become less and less available".

It is also seen as a response to "significant evidence that certain third-country seasonal workers face exploitation and sub-standard working conditions which may threaten their health and safety".

The tourism sector is highlighted by the Commission as one of three business sectors most dependent on the use of non-EU workers. The other two are agriculture and horticulture. All are "repeatedly identified as the sectors most prone to work undertaken by third-country nationals who are staying illegally".

At present, the recruitment of seasonal workers from outside the EU is governed mainly by national law in the EU's member states, although there are European measures setting the maximum length of stay (6 months in any 12) and a standard format for residence permits. The current proposal is the first attempt to introduce EU-wide rules and procedures.Member states will still have the right to decide how many non-EU seasonal workers they wish to admit and, indeed, whether or not they need any at all.

Full details of the proposal may be found on the European Commission's Europa website.