Harvesting Solidarity is a socially engaged documentary project that brings together the personal seasonal work stories of Romanians who have left to work in the European Union. What determines them to choose working abroad? What are their living and working conditions, in countries such as Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, France, or Italy? How has the pandemic affected them? What are the main problems they’re facing and what are the main improvements they expect from the Romanian state? These are the main questions the documentary project answers to.

An online platform that presents the experiences of Romanian seasonal workers from a first-person perspective.

From July to October 2020, we gathered 16 personal stories from Romanians working in agriculture, maintenance, construction, hospitality, or the food industry. While some of them have ten-plus years of work experience and leave for the West each year, others are on their first seasonal jobs. They live in various areas of the country and are aged between 20 and 60: university students, parents with school-age children, or grandparents.

We wanted to learn the work and life stories from the workers themselves. We integrated them all under the ampler definition of seasonal work, which takes place according to the passage of the seasons, based on a fixed-term contract, with one or several employers abroad.

Lacking opportunities for a decent livelihood in their home country, most seasonal workers are faced with a false choice.

They become trapped between the emergency of ensuring necessary incomes and the possibility of earning money through physical labor, oftentimes in extremely difficult conditions or deprived of social protection, in their host countries.

Seasonal work is not merely a Romanian problem, but an issue of the European labor market: East European citizens are often exploited in the West, by doing the jobs westerners refuse.

'Because the evil abroad is a lesser evil than the one at home.'

The work in Romania is not paid, it’s not prized. (Aurel Munteanu, hospitality, France)

It would help me a great deal if the Romanian state resumed a leaner trajectory. Stop having people go abroad. Stop me from going abroad. I wouldn’t want to leave Romania again, but they need to ensure certain conditions. A livelihood, for starters, because we don’t get too much of that. (Ungureanu Iulian, cleaning, Austria)

I’ll stay here as long as is needed. I’ll spare you the fact that I can’t handle this anymore and I want to go home. (…) I did everything they asked me to. I’m universal, if they need me to be. My interest is going to work. (Ungureanu Iulian, cleaning, Austria)

All I want is for them to pay well enough, not to get scammed. (Răzvan, agriculture, France)

You work less, you bring in less money from out there. (Florina Ragantu, agriculture, England / Spain)


Forms of solidarity

Seasonal workers are one of the most vulnerable categories of the workforce. During a time when solidarity is touted as a catalyst of socio-economic recovery, turned into a leitmotif both in politicians’ speeches, as well as on social networks, we wondered: to what extent is solidarity a resource? How is solidarity manifested in seasonal work environments? How could solidarity be built, in order to improve the working and living conditions of Romanians who have gone abroad? 

We identified the existence of fragile solidarity networks, activated on a case-by-case basis, around shared issues, or when people are in danger. They are manifest in daily labor activities, in organizing shared housing, or in response to employer abuse. They are completed by several social network groups (on Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok), through which Romanian workers organize spontaneously, ask for advice and exchange information, seek stable jobs, or safeguard against potentially deceitful intermediaries. Such virtual communities emerge as a reaction to the authorities’ lack of involvement and information.  

When governments fail to come up with specific solutions to systemic issues, the workers are forced to adapt. Spontaneous, unorganized, informal forms of solidarity emerge. Are they enough? The particularities and context of seasonal work render the construction and development of unions or other forms of representation of the workers’ rights and interests difficult and slow.

In the absence of a well regulated legal framework or an implementation and monitoring mechanisms, and without the EU member states’ active involvement, Romanian workers have to fend for themselves.

The Harvesting Solidarity platform is our message of solidarity with mobile workers and their right to decent work and a decent life.

Therefore, we intend to launch an honest discussion about the realities of seasonal work. An insufficiently researched subject, despite the fact that it affects the lives of many Romanians. 

Too little known to the general public, it only makes press headlines or features on the authorities’ agendas in times of crisis.

Harvesting Solidarity is project by:

Asociația VIRA and ViraFilms

Funded by:

European Cultural Foundation

Culture of Solidarity Fund 2020