Inhumane working conditions and exploitation are the reality for many agricultural workers in the EU. In an open letter, the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) demands more social rights for the agricultural workers within the scope of the common agricultural policy, which is supported by more than 300 other organisations – among them AK EUROPA.
On 1 January 2021, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027 came into force, of which about a third – and thereby a significant share of the EU budget – has been allocated to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Details of the CAP budget are currently being negotiated in a separate regulation, whereby these funds have been earmarked for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) on the one hand and for direct payments to the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) on the other. At 70 % of the CAP budget, the direct payments account for a significantly higher share of the budgets, which, from AK’s point of view, has to be critically evaluated. On the one hand, this results in a negative distributional effect of these funds – 20 % of farmers receive around 80 % of the available subsidies, whereas on the other, labour laws so far have not played any role concerning the allocation of direct payments, even though many agricultural workers in the EU are working under precarious and inhumane conditions.
Poor working conditions in spite of big subsidies
In spite of the large amount of EU monies, which are annually allocated to the agricultural sector in form of direct payments, a large part of the at least ten million workers on EU farms is affected by precarious conditions, most of them seasonal workers, harvest workers or day labourers. Inhumane working conditions, poor pay, long working hours, cash-in-hand jobs and inferior accommodation in huts or containers are only some of the problems, the people in question are confronted with on a daily basis. During the course of the COVID pandemic, EU institutions have rated these agricultural workers as indispensable, however, poor working and living conditions continue to exist and remain widely invisible.
In a Position Paper on the Commission’s “Farm to Fork Strategy”, AK has already criticised the working conditions of farm workers and demanded that agricultural subsidies are tied to the adherence of labour and social standards in order to create a socially fair EU agriculture. Recently, the EU Parliament too has adopted a clear position in the same spirit: MEPs demand that future CAP direct payments should be tied to working and employment conditions pursuant to tariff agreements, to the adherence to national and EU law as well as to the ILO Conventions.
Open Letter on mandatory standards concerning the eligibility for direct payments of the Common Agricultural Policy
It is of paramount importance, that as next step, this position adopted by the EU Parliament will be confirmed and further strengthened in further negotiations between EU Parliament, Council and Commission. Hence, AK, together with EFFAT and more than 300 other trade unions, non-governmental organisations as well as representatives from science and research urges the EU institutions in an open letter to use the negotiations on the CAP regulation to follow the lead of the EU Parliament and to tie mandatory labour and social standards to the direct payments to EU farmers. This is the only way to prevent social dumping. Apart from that, this will ensure that those farmers, who already respect workers’ rights, do not suffer any competitive disadvantages and that the standards laid down do not waste away as “dead” law. Farm workers – people who ensure on a daily basis that food shoppers are not confronted with empty shelves even during a global pandemic – now expect the EU institution to come up with a clear regulation.