Attracting and protecting the rights of seasonal workers (EMN)

For many EU countries, seasonal workers from third countries are crucial to fill temporary, cyclical labour market needs. Since the adoption of the Seasonal Workers Directive in 2016, this specific category of workers can benefit from EU-harmonised admission policies and rights concerning their entry and stay. This study provides a comparative overview of recent trends in seasonal workers coming to the EU and Belgium, and the strategies and practices related to seasonal workers from third countries.

EU Synthesis report

How are seasonal workers attracted and their rights protected in the EU Member States and the UK? The EU Synthesis Report reflects the most recent situation and developments in terms of legislation and policy in Member States, largely focussing on 2019. The study primarily covers third-country nationals who enter and reside in an EU Member State for the purpose of seasonal work within the framework of the Seasonal Workers Directive.

Key trends and findings:

  • Most seasonal workers in Member States are from neighbouring regions, with Ukraine being the most common country of origin. The most common sectors where seasonal workers are employed include agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.
  • In most Member States seasonal workers are important to fill shortages in certain sectors and several Member States have measures in place to attract seasonal workers. These include faster and simplified procedures, shortening of processing times and cooperation with third countries.
  • Some Member States have made use of the option to limit the rights and protection of seasonal workers, in particular regarding access to unemployment benefits and family benefits.
  • Across the Member States, several agencies are responsible for the monitoring of working conditions. Still, cases of abuse might go undetected, as seasonal workers are highly dependent on employers and often do not know their rights. Several Member States have run information campaigns to provide seasonal workers with information on their rights.
  • Several Member States have introduced measures to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include permit extensions for workers already present in the Member States, lifting of travel restrictions, as well as mobilisation of domestic labour to fill the gaps.


Belgian report

Due to transfers of competence from the federal level to the regions in the context of the sixth state reform, in Belgium the Seasonal Workers Directive has only been transposed in September 2019. At the time of this study, only the Flemish Region had issued work authorisations to seasonal workers under the Directive, while no seasonal workers had been admitted under the scheme in Wallonia, Brussels or the German-speaking Community.

Key findings:

  • Unlike many other Member States, Belgium does not rely on seasonal workers from third-countries to fill its labour market needs. The majority of the seasonal workers in Belgium come from other EU Member States, mainly Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. As a result, no specific measures are in place to attract seasonal workers from third countries.
  • In the federated entities, the agriculture, horticulture and hospitality sectors are covered by the Seasonal Workers Directive. The Brussels-Capital region limited the coverage of the Directive to the agriculture sector.
  • Belgium addressed the seasonal labour shortages due to COVID-19 by increasing the maximum number of working days for seasonal workers, by facilitating asylum-seekers' access to seasonal work and by adopting various other measures.


Publication Date:
Wed 20 Jan 2021
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