Media overview

Both Romanian and international press have documented the working and living conditions of Romanians off to work abroad, during COVID-19-imposed restrictions. The journalists’ investigations and the workers’ testimonies have brought to the fore numerous cases of abuse and systemic exploitation of workers in Western farms and abattoirs. We have selected the most relevant news, published in the first months of the pandemic.

For a more in-depth view on the topic, we invite you to access the active links on this page.

Seasonal workers in the media

The timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic for Romanian migrant workers

February 26, 2020

The first case of the new Coronavirus is diagnosed on Romanian territory

March 16, 2020

Romania declares a state of emergency

March 2020

In order to cope with the workforce crisis, German authorities, pressured by employers, decide to prolong employment time for seasonal workers from 70 to 115 days

March 30, 2020

Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, imperatively calls on EU member states to allow seasonal workers across their borders. She pleads for protecting the Single Market, as well as production and supply chains

April 2020

The UK’s campaign for recruiting local agricultural workers fails. The British Government switches focus to seasonal workers from Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland

April 4, 2020

Military Ordinance No. 7 is issued, allowing charter flights that transport seasonal workers from Romania to other Western countries

April 9, 2020

The first seasonal workers’ flights are organized at the Cluj airport

April 11, 2020

A Romanian asparagus picker in Germany dies after contracting the new Coronavirus

April 2020

An increasing number of testimonies of the abuse and exploitation that Romanian workers abroad are subjected to emerges in the national and international press

June 2020

COVID-19 outbreaks at German abattoirs point to the inhumane working and living conditions that Romanian workers are subjected to

July 16, 2020

The European Commission proposes a set of recommendations for protecting seasonal workers in Europe, in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic

September 8, 2020

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) calls on further action from the Commission, including the elimination of abusive practices through subcontracting the workforce and the temporary work agencies

November 2020

Adoption of Law 227/2020 amending Law 156/2000 regarding the protection of Romanian citizens working abroad

Journalists raised questions on the morality of EU’s decision to open the borders for seasonal workers, but the asparagus on Germany’s tables seems more important than the workers’ lives

The international press started documenting the story of seasonal workers even before the first charter flights were organized. Journalists have highlighted:

Some of the Romanian worker’s life-stories have been documented right before their departure abroad. A few days later, the same persons would expose the scale of the abuses they were subjected to during this work-season.

Quite fast and without too many preparatory measures, special charters are organized, transporting workers from Romania and other East European countries towards Germany, Netherlands, Austria, United Kingdom etc.

In order to find a job abroad, Romanian workers reach out to intermediaries and informal job postings (OLX, Facebook, Publi24). Journalists spot work intermediaries even at the airport, but Labor Inspection officials fail to spot any irregular activity.

In the United Kingdom, some Romanian workers are satisfied with the working conditions. In Germany on the other hand, images depicting how poor the COVID-19 social distancing measures are enacted spread really fast, despite the official discourse of the authorities.

Videos taken by Romanian workers depict serious irregularities regarding the transport, housing and working conditions. In the context of the mobility restrictions imposed by the pandemic, workers are not allowed to leave the farms, and the abuses that Romanian male and female workers have to face are unimaginable.

The press also helped us to understand how little prepared the authorities are to respond to this new crisis. Governments regulate the conditions under which seasonal workers should live and work, but these rules are rarely implemented .

The exploitation of Romanian workers on the asparagus farms is not an isolated case.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided journalists the opportunity to show that the abuses faced by East European workers is a systematic phenomenon, widespread in all European countries.

The abuses reported in April on the farms are amplified by the situation in the German slaughterhouses.

— Deutsche Welle

  • Germany: Former abattoir worker 'heard colleagues crying at night'
  • Read article
  • June 25, 2020

Forms of solidarity

Trade Unions in the UK pressure the Government to ensure that the working and housing conditions respect the social distancing rules. Trade Unions in Germany offer support in cases of abuse, while workers’ struggles hit the headlines of the main publications and TV news channels.

Faire Mobilität provides information and legal assistance for abused workers. Locals show solidarity with Romanian workers protesting against the abuses. Trade Unions in France and Spain denounce the dire working conditions and abuses. In Romania, eLiberare develops the platform Muncă.Info, gathering useful information for Romanians who want to work abroad.

Legislative and political impact

Following reports in the international press, in May 2020 the Romanian Minister of Labour, Violeta Alexandru, pays a working visit to Germany, where she meets with her counterpart and the Minister of Agriculture. The German Embassy provides information on the working conditions in Germany and the Labour Inspectorate starts inspections at employment agencies sending workers abroad.

Subsequently, the Romanian Government amends the Law on the protection of Romanian citizens working abroad (Law no. 227/2020). From January 2021, the German Government bans employment through intermediaries in the meat industry and adopts a series of measures to strengthen workers’ rights.