/Episode 05

Work during the pandemics

From seasonal worker to essential worker


Once the pandemic hit, some of Europe’s most unprivileged citizens became essential workers

As a result of border closures, Western European countries were bereft of the mobile laborers that covered many of the key sectors, especially in agriculture. After several failed efforts to mobilize their own citizens, farmers in the UK and Germany turned to Eastern European workers.

Following heavy lobbying from large farmers in member states, in late March, the European Commission issued a statement calling on states to facilitate the transit of seasonal workers, who thus became “essential” for the agri-food sector.


On April 4, 2020, a Military Decree allowed charter flights for the transport of workers from Romania to Western Europe.

Over 16.000 Romanian workers departed in April

Testing was not available when we left, in April. We were just told to wear masks and gloves. And, right before we left, it was real madness at the airport in Cluj.

— Moldovan Elisabeta

  • farmworker Germany
  • Location: Germany

Safety measures taken by employers

The host countries insisted that health safety measures were being observed: new arrivals were quarantined for 14 days, social distancing was in place on the plane and at work, the workers were being picked up at the airports, and the wearing of masks, gloves or visors was mandatory. As the possibility of on-demand testing became more widely available, some employers requested proof of a negative test.

Despite check-ups, in practice, maintaining social distance in many labor sectors proved very difficult and wearing protective equipment was not necessarily observed. Abuses, COVID-19 infections, as well as outbreaks in meat factories, food processing facilities, and farms started to crop up.

They were making us wear masks inside the greenhouse, but you couldn’t, you’d get sick from the heat, from the cellophane.

— Florina Ragantu

  • farmworker UK
  • Location: UK

Working during quarantine



Workers who came to work on the farms were seen as a threat by the locals.


Some of the workers lost their jobs or had their working hours cut down.

Returning home during restrictions

Upon departure, many employers mobilized to provide transport (later deducted from the workers’ salaries), with all measures to facilitate transit taken, but, upon return, in most cases the workers had to organize themselves, each seeking the most accessible means of transportation.

In order to pass through overcrowded customs points, each of them had to adapt and come up with transit strategies, all the while minding the restrictions in place at the time, as well as in the specific countries they were transiting.

The way back home