Debate over chartered flights for harvest workers

Coronavirus restrictions are leading to a shortage of hundreds of thousands of harvest workers from abroad. Despite the restrictions, specially authorised planes carrying seasonal workers from Romania have been landing in Germany for the past two weeks. Images from the Romanian city of Cluj made negative headlines when around 2,000 passengers waiting for flights formed a large crowd outside its airport on April 9. Is something fundamentally wrong in the farming industry?

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Webcafé (BG) /

Driven by desperation

The risk of getting ill is the lesser evil for many seasonal workers, writes Webcafé:

“The employers are not obliged to insure the guest workers in the health insurance scheme for the first 115 days after they're hired, that is for virtually their entire working stay. So if a worker is injured or falls ill with coronavirus, he or she does not have free access to the German health system. ... Who would be prepared to expose themselves to such a risk? ... The answer is that tens of thousands of volunteers are still setting out in search of work. Confronted with the prospect of losing their entire income in the looming economic crisis, many prefer the risk of catching a disease abroad to the certainty of going hungry at home.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Risk of infection can't be justified

It's inhumane for thousands of harvest workers to be flown in just so the Germans can enjoy their asparagus, the taz fumes:

“It puts the health of many people at risk: the workers themselves, but also airport employees and airline crews, for example. The German Interior Ministry for good reason initially banned the around 300,000 seasonal workers who would be flown into the country in normal years. After all, with so many people the likelihood is very high that they'll spread the virus. ... Such a high risk of infection can't be justified - especially not just so Germans can pay as little as possible for their asparagus again this year. After all, asparagus is a luxury vegetable that nobody needs for nutrition.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

A sign of the crookedness of the system

The row over Romanian asparagus pickers is a forerunner of things to come in a global agricultural crisis, writes Hürriyet Daily News:

“It must be known that around the globe, most crops, especially the ones that cannot be robotized and require manual labor are picked by "guest" seasonal workers. The practice ranges from voluntary working pilgrimages with well-organized facilities and working conditions to almost forced labor that can even be described as modern slavery, especially in the case of illegal African refugees in southern Italy, picking oranges or tomatoes. ... For the asparagus pickers German authorities say this year is ok, Alles in Ordnung! Really? Their love of asparagus showed us the crookedness of the system. As long as we need to eat, we need to rethink our agriculture systems.”

Ziare (RO) /

Fear of poverty is stronger

It's silly to complain that there shouldn't have been any planes heading for Germany, news website Ziare puts in:

“You can't stop people, at least not for any longer than the emergency lasts. If they don't go now, they'll go next month or after that - unless there's something far more effective than a ban, namely prospects for the future. ... Traffic is increasing on Bucharest's roads and we are starting to see traffic jams again. People have got used to the fear of infection. The fear of poverty and economic collapse is far stronger and more urgent. It's what's filling the planes that have taken off from Cluj - and those that have yet to leave.” (RO) /

Work close to home instead

Romania should encourage more people to start farming in their home country, Moise Guran writes on his blog

“How many have flown from Cluj or Iasi to Germany? 2,000? 5,000? Ok, but there are still hundreds of thousands here at home now, especially in the villages - at a time when farming activities should be at a peak. Working the fields isn't prohibited by law. Demand for food is increasing due to border restrictions. Let's keep the people where they are! It's not too late! Virtually all the conditions have been met for Romanians to stay put and find work near their homes without having to fear death upon returning to the West.”

Magyar Hang (HU) /

Support small farmers

Magyar Hang also sees the corona crisis as a chance to overhaul the farming sector:

“If a flood of unemployed waiters starts heading for the fields and greenhouses, things here will soon start looking like they do in France. There, farmers are already begging people from the fashion industry to keep away from the strawberry fields because they don't know a thing about harvesting. What's more, farmers need the labourers not just during the quarantine period but for the long term. And that's precisely where the coronavirus can drive change. We could now make the switch from large-scale production of mainly genetically modified foods to goods produced by small farmers. Then the products - and farm workers - would no longer have to travel around the world.”