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Ioan hesitated when the phone rang. The call from Germany came after the announcement of Romanian Interior Minister Ion Marcel Vela’s announcement on April 4 that seasonal harvest workers would be given permission to leave the country to work abroad. Vela said the government had decided to allow workers to fly directly to Germany despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, Ioan harvested asparagus in Germany for the first time. After nearly three months of tiring work – 10 hours a day, seven days a week – he returned home with as little as € 1,800 to show his business. That’s because more than € 1,000 in salary was used to cover food, lodging and other expenses in Germany.

“It was not a pleasant experience,” Ioan told DW. He has worked with around 120 seasonal workers – mostly Romans and two Bulgarians – who can barely speak German and all work through brokers. The same middleman called on Ioan to offer him a job in Germany this year, this time with better working conditions: “They really need us. They even arrange flights for us.”

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Wanted: 300,000 workers

German farmers say they need around 300,000 seasonal workers for the 2020 harvest. However, in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, the German government has so far banned foreign harvesters – like most other foreigners – enter the country. Farmers try to fill the labor shortage by employing people in Germany. The BMR engine ring association and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture combine to create an online platform for farmers to quickly advertise jobs.

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Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner said the site was quickly attracting interest, with around 16,000 Germans – including several soccer players – registering. However, farmers say that employees with little or no experience will help a little, especially in terms of harvesting asparagus.

In April, farmers received a reprieve. To save crops, the German government decided to allow 80,000 seasonal food harvesters to enter the country – 40,000 in April and the same amount in May. The agreement was sealed after Klöckner and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer reached an agreement on April 4.

“We are very pleased the government has agreed to allow additional seasonal workers from Eastern Europe to enter the country,” said Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers Association (DBV). He said the agreement took into account the needs of DBV members, as well as members of GLFA, the German umbrella organization of the association of agricultural and forestry entrepreneurs. “Our business will strictly adhere to the current health guidelines set by the Robert Koch Institute that are designed to stop the spread of infection,” Rukwied said. “And that decision will allow us to continue working.”

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Now, the Lufthansa Eurowings subsidiary has announced that it will work with DBV to fly tens of thousands of seasonal workers for spring harvest. Eurowings has created a website to help workers get to Germany from Romania. The first flights between Düsseldorf and Cluj and Cluj and Berlin, will begin Thursday.

When they arrived in Germany, workers had to live and work separately from the others for 14 days, and no one was allowed to leave the farm where they were assigned. Employers have also been forced to adapt to strict housing regulations based on advice from the Robert Koch Institute. The room can only be occupied by half of its regular capacity, and clothes and dishes must be washed hot. The government calls this “quarantine at work”.

Harvesting under locking

Back in Romania, Ioan collected his travel documents and packed a few items for the trip. He said his wife and children were in good condition and the garden in their home would provide all the fruit and vegetables they needed. He said Romania’s stringent new state-of-emergency rules – which were recently extended – had made it impossible to work there. He added that he was recently dismissed by his employer in Cluj.

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On the phone, the intermediary assured Ioan that working conditions would be better this year and that he would make real money. Now there is even an online platform that allows foreign workers to find their own employers – even though most are only in Germany. Ioan said that he hoped to learn the language.

He called an intermediary to say that he would accept the offer. Ioan said he would be in Germany after Easter.

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