Misconceiving ‘seasons’ in global food systems: The case of the EU Seasonal Workers Directive

Published date01 July 2017
Date01 July 2017
Misconceiving seasonsin global food systems:
The case of the EU Seasonal Workers Directive
Lydia Medland*
This article discusses the EU Seasonal Workers Directive alongside case study data of seasonal agricultural work
in Spain. The conceptual contribution is to critically consider seasonalityand the related assumptions around
temporary labour migration for agricultural work. This consideration informs an analysis of the Directive's policy
approach alongside its three global objectives. It is argued that this Directive is likely to fail to meet all three of
these objectives; the assumed timeframe for labour demands does not correspond with unmet seasonal
challenges; the lack of options for undocumented workers already in the EU may compound their marginalisation;
the policy approach of circular migration and limited worker protections does not do enough to prevent new
seasonal workers from falling into situations of vulnerability and undocumented status.
Migration patterns elicited by seasonal demand for agricultural labour have long been a very tangible reality in Europe.
The scale and characteristics of the flows have been very much influenced in recent decades by the development of a
particular economic model of intensive agricultural production and by specific structures of distribution and retail of
agricultural products.
It is in such a context that we must consider the creation of a specific and distinct legal status of
seasonal workerin European law by virtue of the 2014 Seasonal Workers Directive (hereafter SWD).
This article provides an analysis and a critical assessment of this new status by means of confronting European
law with the actual economic and social practices of seasonal work in intensive agriculture, as they emerge from
empirical work undertaken in one of the key enclavesof agricultural production in the European Union, namely
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This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and repro-
duction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© 2017 The Authors. European Law Journal Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol, UK. I would like to thank interviewees for their hospitality
and time. I would also like to thank Professor Tonia Novitz for her guidance during the legal research and drafting phases of this paper.
Thanks also to Dr Emma Carmel and Dr Adrian Flint for their encouragement. Thanks also to the editor and anonymous reviewers of
this paper. This work was supported by the South West Doctoral Training Centre (SWDTC), and by the Economic and Social Sciences
Research Council (ESCR) [grant 1325178].
See, e.g., J. Gertel and S.R. Sippel (eds.), Seasonal Workers in Mediterranean Agriculture: The Social Costs of Eating Fresh (Earthscan,
2014) and A. Corrado, C. de Castro and D. Perrotta, Migration and Agriculture: Mobility and Change in the Mediterranean Area
(Routledge, 2017).
Parliament and Council Directive 2014/36/EU on the conditions of entry and stay of thirdcountry nationals for the purpose of
employment as seasonal workers [2014] OJ 26/02/2014 (SWD). The UK, Ireland and Denmark are not taking part in the adoption
and are not bound by the SWD, paras 54, 55.
Received: 26 August 2016 Revised: 9 February 2017 Accepted: 22 March 2017
DOI: 10.1111/eulj.12235
Eur Law J. 2017;23:157171. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/eulj 157

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