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7 Apr 2020

Giulia Lagana, Al Jazeera

Without rights for farm workers, EU's food supplies are at risk

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[F]arming associations have sounded the alarm about large labour shortages, highlighting the fact that [...] our farming depends to a large extent on migrant labour.

Lockdowns across the EU mean that seasonal workers from Central and Eastern EU states cannot travel...

[H]owever, policymakers appear not to be focusing on the people picking our fruit and vegetables, packing and processing our food, and transporting it across Europe...

As [...] research published by the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI) shows, farmers resort to cutting the only cost they have any control over - the price of labour. 

This has led to widespread exploitation, not just in countries like Italy where conditions are often akin to slavery, but also in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. 

In Southern Europe, thousands of migrant farm workers eke out a living in shacks and unsanitary settlements where the pandemic could have devastating effects. In the fields, labourers toil in close proximity, with no protective equipment at the best of times...

The pandemic presents the EU with an opportunity to overhaul its agricultural and food system to make it greener, fairer and more efficient, with shorter and less circuitous supply chains, adequate prices for both farmers and consumers, and guaranteed labour rights for workers... 

A single EU-wide screening procedure and the guarantee of protective gear and decent working conditions would ensure respect for labour rights as well as allaying concerns about contagion on both sides. 

In member states like Italy and Spain, national governments should be supported if they decide to grant an amnesty to undocumented migrants, who are the most vulnerable part of the pool of exploitable labour already in the country. 

Large migrant facilities should be shut down across the EU, with people moved to smaller housing units where physical distancing is possible. In most EU countries, the suspension of asylum and immigration procedures due to the pandemic has also thrown millions into limbo and may deprive many of papers. Permits should therefore be automatically prolonged, as Portugal has already done.