A seasonal worker is defined in Article 3(b) of Directive 2014/36/EU on the conditions of entry and stay of third-country nationals for the purpose of employment as:
a third-country national who retains his or her principal place of residence in a third country and stays legally and temporarily in the territory of a Member State to carry out an activity dependent on the passing of the seasons, under one or more fixed-term work contracts concluded directly between that third-country national and the employer established in that Member State.
In general, seasonal work is a form of temporary employment linked to specific periods of the year and sectors (for example, fruit pickers in the agricultural sector) or the tourist industry (for example, cleaners in holiday resorts). Although the situation differs from country to country, seasonal workers are often treated less favourably than permanent workers in terms of:
- legal entitlements (for example, dismissal protection);
- benefits offered by employers (for example, pension entitlements);
- other employment conditions (for example, health and safety, training).
Seasonal work can be carried out in the European Union by both EU citizens and non-EU citizens.
In the case of EU citizens, seasonal workers could benefit from Directive 91/533/EEC on an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship. However, the directive does allow Member States to exclude from its provisions those employees with a contract or employment relationship not exceeding one month, and/or with a working week not exceeding eight hours; or of casual and/or specific nature provided that this is justified by objective considerations.
Seasonal workers may also be characterised as casual workers, and as such could be excluded from the provisions of the 1997 Part-time Work Directive (97/81/EC) by Member States on objective grounds. In contrast, the Fixed-term Work Directive (1999/70/EC) does not explicitly exclude seasonal workers who work on fixed-term contracts. Seasonal workers are therefore covered by the protections provided by this directive, such as the prevention of abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships.
In the case of non-EU citizens (third-country nationals), the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs estimates that over 100,000 non-EU seasonal workers come to the EU every year. While acknowledging that EU economies have a structural need for seasonal work for which it is increasingly difficult to source labour from within the EU, the Commission expresses concern at the evidence showing that some non-EU seasonal workers face exploitation and substandard working conditions which could threaten their health and safety. This is compounded by the fact that those sectors of the economy characterised by a strong presence of seasonal workers – especially agriculture, horticulture and tourism – are repeatedly identified as the sectors most likely to have non-EU nationals staying and working irregularly in the EU.
Given these concerns, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Directive 2014/36/EU on 26 February 2014. This provides the following main protections to non-EU seasonal workers.
- Seasonal workers retain their principal place of residence in a third country, and stay legally and temporarily in the EU to carry out an activity depending on the passing of the seasons, typically in agriculture or tourism.
- Member States must determine a maximum period of stay for seasonal workers of between five and nine months in any 12-month period.
- To be allowed to enter the EU as seasonal workers, third-country nationals must have a work contract or a binding job offer specifying essentials such as pay and working hours. They must also provide evidence that the worker will stay in accommodation that meets the general health and safety standards of the Member State and that the rent will not be excessive or automatically deducted from the wage.
- Seasonal workers who are already in an EU Member State are able to extend their work contract or change their employer at least once.
- Re-entry of third-country nationals who return every year to the EU to do seasonal work is facilitated.
- Seasonal workers are entitled to equal treatment as nationals of the host Member State with regard to terms of employment, including the minimum working age, working conditions, including pay and dismissal, working hours, leave and holidays, and health and safety requirements at the workplace.
- Equal treatment with nationals will also apply to branches of social security (benefits linked to sickness, invalidity and old age). Because of the temporary nature of the stay of seasonal workers, Member States will not be obliged to apply equal treatment on unemployment and family benefits, and may limit equal treatment on tax benefits and on education and vocational training.
- Seasonal workers also have the right to join a trade union and are entitled to access to social security, pensions, training and advice on seasonal work offered by employment offices and other public services, except for public housing.
- Member States must provide measures aimed at preventing abuses and at sanctioning infringements. They must also provide seasonal workers with mechanisms for lodging a complaint against their employer, either themselves or through third parties.