EU funds under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must only be given to farm enterprises that respect labour rights when it comes to farm workers, MEP Chris MacManus has said.

The Sinn Féin MEP called on the European Parliament’s CAP negotiating team to ensure that “CAP payments are conditional upon respect for labour rights”.

Speaking from Brussels, the MEP for Midlands-North West made a dramatic claim, stating: “In the ongoing CAP negotiations, we have seen attempts by the European Council to erase any reference to labour rights for agricultural workers.

“This is totally unacceptable and exposes the lack of desire by some EU countries to tackle the problem of precarious conditions for agricultural workers,” he alleged.

More than 10 million people are employed in European agriculture, with the majority of these being seasonal workers and labourers.

“In many EU countries, these jobs are characterised by difficult working conditions, low wages, long working hours and a high proportion of undeclared work.”

MacManus noted that workers are often migrants or asylum seekers, which he says “creates a dangerous imbalance of power” when they ask the enterprise for better working conditions.

The Midlands Northwest MEP continued, stating:

It would be an unbelievable situation where the new legislation aimed high in relation to environmental protection and animal welfare standards – but was silent on protecting the men and women involved in food production.

“I’m against unnecessary red tape for farmers – but labour rights must not be considered window dressing,” he added.

“What we are calling for is an assurance that EU funds will only be given to farm enterprises that enforce the rules when it comes to declared employment, equal treatment, pay, working time, health and safety and social security.

“If through a court ruling, this is found not to be the case, then CAP support should be halted.

This may seem like a small ask for people in Ireland, where the family farm is the common model, but in some EU countries it is being met with fierce opposition. Among those countries objecting are Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

In Ireland, however, the MEP described the manner in which meat factory workers were treated during the pandemic as “deplorable”, adding:

“Ireland is therefore not immune to issues of this nature and we must support this binding legislation to protect workers across the EU.”

MacManus concluded, stating: “I will continue to press for this inclusion and ensure that the new CAP only supports those whose model of production is fair and sustainable for both workers and consumers.”