/Episode 02

Contracts and Intermediators

While employee-employer relationships are most often contract-based, they are often unclear and uncertain.


Forms of intermediation

“Commissioners” are people who mediate the relationship between newcomers and the foreign country. For a fee, they offer accommodation, transportation, utilities, and a job. But workers find that, after this exchange is made, they are left with an insufficient amount of money to cover their expenses. Before Romania joined the EU, these arrangements were more often encountered. Generally, workers establish a relationship with a farmer, to whom they return, year in, year out, during harvest season. Some prefer the UK, because farms there also provide decent accommodation and enough money to live in Romania for the rest of the year. Others prefer Germany, France, the Netherlands, or Austria.

Contracts entered into through employment agencies are mostly used by people who leave for the first time. Agencies are economic players that intermediate the employee-employer relationship, in exchange for a commission. Their activity is regulated under Law No. 156/2000 and can be checked via Territorial Labor Inspectorates. Oftentimes, these companies don’t make good on their initial promises. They either charge fees without providing the promised services, or supply incomplete information on labor conditions or wages. Those who have gone through the experience recommend reading the contract prior to signing it, ideally before departure.

Contracting Issues

Discrepancies between contractual conditions and those to be found at the place of arrival. In some cases, the conditions presented initially by mediating agencies differ from those that workers discover at the scene: these can include longer hours, lower pay, a different type of work altogether, even, a different job, or specialization.

Contract issues with outsourcing companies. Hotels, nursing homes, schools, but also other entities, are among the most frequent outsourcers of maintenance or cooking activities. Alongside a number of employees on open-ended contracts, they subcontract workers for a fixed number of hours and certain periods of the year. Subcontracting is considered a cost-cutting method for companies and state institutions. In some countries, subcontracted employees enjoy the same benefits as regular workers – annual leave, sick leave, breaks, insurance, and other benefits. Outsourced work often entails fewer working hours, thus generating lower incomes for workers.

Some workers leave through informal agreements, enabled by acquaintances. Some such cases can turn problematic, as the workers wind up being asked for higher commissions than those initially discussed.

Bornheim Case

One of the largest asparagus farms in Germany has gone bankrupt, thus affecting the lives of many Romanian workers. Among them, Spargel Ritter had built the reputation of a workplace where you stood to make good money. In spite of his success story, Claus Ritter, known in the German press as “Asparagus King,” was declared insolvent in early 2020. Even though the situation had gone public, Romanian workers were called in to work at this farm whose future remained uncertain.

The bankrupt company was managed by a lawyer who, according to the workers, had assured them that work and payment conditions had suffered no change. However, when some of them demanded their money, they received less. Some workers were unable to cover the debt they had incurred, in order to be able to work on the farm in the first place.


With the support of the FAU Union, the people organized a protest movement, in which they halted work and marched to the Romanian embassy in Bonn. These actions determined the visit of the Romanian Labor Minister. On May 21st, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the Romanian Bornheim farm workers had been paid. Nevertheless, them receiving their salary rights is still being disputed in court.


Trade Unions

Open-ended work contracts offer workers a lot more safety. Aside from constant contributions paid for them to social insurance funds (health, retirement, unemployment), employees are protected from abuse, such as wrongful contract termination or being coerced by the employer to work longer hours than stipulated in the legal schedule. These things are especially applicable to countries and fields of work where powerful trade unions fight for workers’ rights.

Experienced workers closely verify contractual conditions, in order to avoid encountering problems upon arrival to the new workplace.