News Item

Stop labour exploitation and protect workers from COVID-19

Butcher cutting raw meat with a knife at table in the slaughterhouse
shellygraphy ©, 2020
In Europe, thousands of exploited workers are forced to work endless hours with no or little pay and without adequate safety equipment. Many of those exploited workers are migrants. Their situation has become even worse during the Coronavirus pandemic, as their working conditions do not allow physical distancing or regular handwashing. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) calls on EU institutions and EU Member States to take all the necessary steps to stop the exploitation of migrant workers, ensure safe working conditions and fair pay.

The Coronavirus pandemic has yet again shed light on the unacceptable conditions many exploited workers work in across Europe,” said FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty. “The reports from agricultural farms and slaughterhouses, where many of the workers are migrants, are truly horrifying. We clearly have to do more to stop labour exploitation, provide safe working conditions and ensure adequate pay. Member States need to step up their efforts to ensure the rights of exploited workers are respected. They cannot be the scapegoats of the Coronavirus pandemic.

While the rights of all workers have to be respected, migrant or not, FRA has specifically looked into the exploitation of migrant workers. The 2019 report ‘Protecting migrant workers from exploitation in the EU: workers’ perspectives’ shows illegal practices in many sectors including agriculture, construction, domestic work, hospitality, manufacturing and transport.

Migrant workers in these sectors are often forced to work for endless hours with no or little pay, often in dangerous settings and without minimum safety equipment; sleep in fields or construction sites, without access to toilets or running water; and suffer humiliating sexual harassment.

They endure – and rarely report – these violations out of fear of losing wages owed to them or, for those without a right to stay, of expulsion.

As a result, labour inspectorates and law enforcement authorities uncover only few of these misdeeds, and offenders face little risk of being investigated or prosecuted. Impunity looms large.

Even though the rules to protect workers are there, they need to be more strictly enforced and cross-border cooperation between EU countries needs to become stronger. FRA calls on the EU and its Member States to intensify their efforts to end labour exploitation in Europe – see our 13 calls for action.

Background information:

The ‘Protecting migrant workers from exploitation in the EU: workers’ perspectives’ report draws on face-to-face and focus group interviews with 237 adult workers who have been victims of severe labour exploitation between 2013 and 2017. It focuses on Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and the UK.

See our work on fundamental rights implications of COVID-19.

For more information, please contact: or +43 1 58030 653