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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is planning to launch a procurement procedure for a study on "Collecting data on the situation of social protection of seasonal workers in the agriculture and food sectors in Member States after COVID-19".
This announcement is made pursuant to Annex I.14 of Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 July 2018 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union, to award a low value contract as a result of a negotiated procedure. It is published ahead of the procurement procedure with basic information on the subject matter of the contract to give interested economic operators the possibility to express their interest in participating as tenderers in the subsequent procurement procedure.
All economic operators established in the European Union, European Economic Area and countries with a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, with proven experience in conducting studies on related topics, may express their interest in participating.
Farming is by definition a seasonal activity, with production peaks at certain times of the year. For these peaks, the EU fruit and vegetable sector is heavily dependent on a seasonal workforce, mainly a non‑national labour force, either from other EU Member States or third countries.
Numerous seasonal workers are employed under short-term contracts, with little job security and social security coverage. Often they are not eligible for social benefits in the country where they are working. Therefore, these workers are more vulnerable to precarious working and living conditions, fraud and abuse.
The pandemic has highlighted the critical role of migrant seasonal workers and has laid bare the exploitative conditions in which migrant seasonal workers have to work. In this regard, the Commission acknowledges that migrant seasonal workers are often more vulnerable to precarious working and living conditions, and it stated that the coronavirus pandemic had exposed, and in some cases exacerbated, these conditions.
The EU's Farm to Fork strategy, published on 20 May 2020, aims to redesign food systems to make them fair, healthy and environmentally friendly. It acknowledges that they cannot be resilient to crises if the social fairness is not factored in: "The COVID-19 pandemic has also made us aware of the importance of critical staff, such as agri-food workers. This is why it will be particularly important to mitigate the socio-economic consequences impacting the food chain and ensure that the key principles enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights are respected, especially when it comes to precarious, seasonal and undeclared workers. The considerations of workers’ social protection, working and housing conditions as well as protection of health and safety will play a major role in building fair, strong and sustainable food systems". This is acknowledged in the EESC Opinion From farm to fork: a sustainable food strategy (NAT/787), "the Farm to Fork Communication rightly recognises the essential work done by farmers and workers along the food chain (including those working under precarious conditions), and the need to ensure their health and safety in line with commitments under the European Pillar of Social Rights. However, the Committee regrets that this is not accompanied by concrete steps in the Action Plan".
One of the problems we face is that the data available on foreign non-EU seasonal workers in the EU are fragmented and partial. There is no EU-wide systematic data gathering or digital tracking system in place. Official figures do not reflect reality, as many migrant seasonal workers go unrecorded. For example, Eurostat collects statistics on seasonal workers who migrate from third countries, on the basis of the definition given in the Seasonal Workers Directive (Directive 2014/36/EU). However, these data are not available for all EU countries, and there are several data gaps. For example, data might not always include those figures of admission from visa-free countries (for instance, Ukraine), they might not consider periods shorter than three months, or they might not provide details on the type of social security coverage. These data do not consider either irregular migration or undeclared employment, which is well present, as reported by several studies and media.
Considering this, as a first step, the study shall provide a general overview of data available and data gaps on the social security coverage of EU and non-EU seasonal workers in the agriculture sector for all EU members, tracking what is known from official statistics, including clear definition of terms, identifying major data gaps, and providing estimations with references when available.
EU Member States manage their own seasonal worker schemes depending on the needs of the domestic labour market, their ties with third countries and their broader immigration system. Besides, seasonal workers are often recruited by private employment agencies acting as intermediaries between clients and workers. The purpose of the second step is to analyse the working conditions as working hours and remuneration, social protection situation and living situation, including the safe transport and decent accommodation of these seasonal workers, and to assess the role of placement agencies and subcontracting firms. To cover this part, tenderers will be asked to propose at least three case studies of those countries employing a high number of seasonal workers – both EU and non-EU nationals – in the agriculture sector to identify the main challenges to ensure proper application and enforcement of the rules, to identify examples of severe exploitation and abuse (if such cases are reported), particularly cases of victims of modern forms of slavery, and to describe the presence and role of intermediary agencies.
As a third step, the study shall provide EU policy recommendations, including possible actions for future EESC work. Recommendations will need to consider inter alia how to advance on a EU-wide systematic data-gathering or digital tracking system; how to improve the enforcement of the legislation on seasonal workers; which are the possible legal gaps; if and how the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (more specifically considering the new social conditionality condition) can contribute to address the problems identified. Policy recommendations should also propose preventive measures to avoid possible exploitation or abuse of Ukrainian refugees potentially working in the agriculture sector.
The study should be carried out in English. The study should include data from all Members States and propose a limited number of case studies, covering at least three EU Member States.
Launch of the invitation to tender: May 2022.
Contract award: July 2022.
The final study report is expected within 8 months following the signature of the contract.
Deadline for submission of tenders: approximately 3 weeks following the launch of the invitation to tender.
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Please note that this announcement does not create any obligation for the EESC to launch a procurement procedure. The EESC will take the submitted information into account only to identify potential candidates. Expressing interest to participate in a negotiated procedure of this type does not create any legal right or legitimate expectation on the part of any economic operator, and the EESC has the right to cancel the procedure at any time. The procurement documents will only be provided to the identified candidates, and any tender received from a legal or natural person not invited to tender will be rejected.