Romania: Seasonal workers are a health bomb

Romania: Seasonal workers are a health bomb

Dan Tapalaga analyzes the situation of Romanian seasonal workers in an article on the G4Media website, as a large number of seasonal land workers from Romania travel to European countries for the harvest of agricultural products.

According to Tapalaga in his article, on Thursday morning, about 2,000 seasonal workers gathered in the parking lot opposite Cluj Airport to depart on chartered aircrafts for Germany, as German farmers have been putting intense pressure on the government in Berlin in recent weeks to lift restrictions on Romanian workers.

They represent, together with the Bulgarians and Poles, 85% of the total seasonal workforce that helps during this period in the harvest of asparagus and other seasonal agricultural products. Without them, German farmers risk leaving their harvest in the fields, so their presence has become vital to the German economy.

One week ago, on April 2, the Berlin government announced that it had accepted a quota of 4,000 seasonal workers to enter Germany, a country affected by the coronavirus epidemic, but under strict conditions.

Employees can only arrive in Germany by charter flights or group trips. Their state of health will also be checked at the border. If there are signs of a coronavirus infection, entry into Germany will be denied. These workers will be employed separately from other workers for 14 days after their arrival in Germany and will not be allowed to leave their jobs.

In other words, Germany was organized long before certain restrictions were lifted and ensured that the maximum risk of importing, through the 4,000 seasonal workers, a new coronavirus epidemic in the country was reduced. In Germany, a total of 113,296 cases of COVID-19 and 2,349 deaths had been recorded by Thursday afternoon.

The Romanian government responded to German pressure, but not only from there, as the Italians are facing similar problems and on April 4 included in the military decree no. 7 a provision that lifted certain travel restrictions, with reference to seasonal workers.

Article 10 states: “(1) Flights operated by all airlines on charter flights are permitted for the transport of seasonal workers from Romania to other States upon approval (2). The provisions of paragraph (1) shall not apply to health and welfare workers.

Italy has announced that 15,000 Romanians will come to work in the agricultural sector in the north of the country, the epicenter of the epidemic, as the Romanian state has exempted seasonal workers from restrictions.

But the Romanian government did not become organized, like the German government did, and did not foresee the other predictable chaos that would ensue. No one has yet determined how and under what conditions these seasonal workers can travel in the country, how group flights be organized, announced and managed, so that the risk of infection is limited. Recruitment companies quickly gathers workers in buses (many of them from Suceava) who roamed the country and no one in Cluj knew of their arrival.

At noon on Thursday, according to Tapalaga, I was surprised to find that dozens of buses from all over the country had gathered in the parking lot in front of Cluj Airport, with about 2,000 seasonal workers. They waited in line for hours, without following the rule of social distancing or minimal protection, and boarded flights to Germany.

The airport administration has pointed to the county council as the one responsible for managing the parking lot through a private company. Representatives of the county council rejected the allegations, arguing that the airport did not announce the arrival of the 13 charter flights that had to pick up the workers, even though they knew about it several days ago.

The situation of seasonal workers amidst the coronavirus pandemic period is not at all enviable. For years, they have organized their lives around their work on farms in Germany, Italy or the United Kingdom, which need their services for only a few months a year.

They work there, in often difficult conditions, in agriculture, hoping to increase their income by a few thousand euros in two to three months, in order to live in the country for the rest of the year. Now, in addition to hard work, they are faced with serious health risks. They are still living the drama of being away from the families, to which the fear of the coronavirus is now added.

For them, the Romanian state has little to offer. They should be very happy that there is a way out for them in the European labor market, otherwise they would be a social and economic burden for the Romanian state.

On the other hand, by lifting travel restrictions for seasonal workers, who will be going to work precisely in countries severely affected by the epidemic, Romania is not closing the vicious cycle of infections, but is creating a rift.

Many will return after a month, two or three from the “red” areas. Even if they are quarantined when they enter the country, we have all seen that discipline and respect for the rules are not the strong point of those returning home.

Therefore, to what extent is the decision to lift the restrictions on seasonal workers correct? Does the Romanian government have a choice? Could such a decision be postponed if everyone was asked to stay at home and strictly follow the isolation measures?

To put it bluntly, this is the first time that the German press has published dozens of articles on the vital needs of Romanian workers, and the focus of the publications is no longer thieves, burglars, beggars, prostitutes./ibna