Migrant and seasonal laborers face very harsh working conditions. Most of their work is very physically demanding, and has long-term effects on their body and health.
Common issues in seasonal work
Instability — seasonal laborers work for short periods of time, for several employers in various countries.
Working hours — some workers wind up substantially surpassing the 40-hour work week standard, while, for others, the contractor does not provide the necessary number of hours to cover basic expenses.
The lack of protective equipment and working conditions — affect people’s health, wellbeing, and safety.
The lack of representation — unfavorable conditions for organized forms of representation, in the absence of a legal framework, or owing to the job’s temporary character.
In agriculture, work is seasonal, paid by the hour or by the unit, with no health insurance or social benefits, in conditions of physical exhaustion.
In construction, the remuneration of work is project-based; most work arrangements are, in practice, mediated by acquaintances, and the promised conditions do not coincide with those at the scene: longer working hours, differing demands, bigger fees.
In maintenance, work is subcontracted, there are fewer working hours than in a full-time job, which implies lower wages.
The first problem workers face is adapting to new environmental conditions, different from those in Romania. Although the places where they work might be situated in popular areas, the climate and large disparity between morning temperatures and the rest of the day make working on farms or in construction a lot more demanding. Adjusting implies a need for adequate equipment – boots, gloves, raincoats – and access to drinking water. Most of the time, employers do not provide this equipment. Workers bear them out of their own pockets.
The second most common problem is communicating in a foreign language. Language is a major factor in managing work relations. Many workers leave Romania without a working knowledge of the employer’s language. Those who learn it along the way end up mediating work relationships for others, as translators, or even hierarchical higher-ups.
Most often, seasonal work is physical labor.
Of all fields, agricultural activities are the most taxing on the body and come with consequences manifested in time, all the while affecting the workers’ health and quality of life. Furthermore, temporary contracts do not cover health insurance. Health problems become the workers’ responsibility and they prefer to keep money and postpone solving them.
It was all a competition: how much, how much more can I keep pushing myself.
The quota sets the rhythm of the workday
During harvest time at the farms, each day’s tempo is set by the number of filled crates. These constraints determine competition-based relationships and conflicts. For those who work in agriculture, harvest-time income is determined by the quantity of fruit or vegetables they have to collect.
This quantity is either set by the employer, in hourly pay situations, or based on each workers’ expectations, if they are paid per crate. In either case, the workers are forced to collect as much as possible, in order to bring as much money back home as possible.
For those who say it’s not that hard
I’d buy them a ticket myself,
To spend a month in my place.”
The flexibilization of work provides the workers with few means to contest the violations of their rights.
Work can be performed directly for the employer or it can be subcontracted. In farming, and sometimes even in construction, the work is performed directly for the contracting employer. In maintenance, however, outsourcing companies rent out laborers for certain jobs or projects. Workers answer to a higher-up who has purchased their services, not to the company that employed them. This is how unclear hierarchical relations come to be. What’s more, outsourcing beneficiaries offer atypical contracts: fixed term and with shorter working hours.
We, as handymen, are treated like horses for sale at the market
- construction worker
Status disparities between the supervisors and the workers often lead to tense relations. In farming, tensions most often occur during harvest season, because of quotas and the pace of work. Short shelf life and quality standards imposed by supermarket chains put pressure on the supervisors who, in turn, demand the workers to pick as much as they can, in the shortest amount of time possible, with great care and a large amount of physical effort.