Are western Europe’s food supplies worth more than east European workers’ health?

Despite big numbers of Romanian migrant workers returning from Spain and Italy at the height of the pandemic in southern Europe, the rate of Covid-19 infection and death in Romania has remained broadly under control. Until, that is, the imperatives of the asparagus supply chain kicked in. Pressed by German agriculture lobbies, the Berlin government asked the Romanian government to grant a bespoke exemption from the lockdown and clear an airbridge for farm workers. The Romanian government agreed, admitting that it had no income support system for this group of workers, who are usually invisible to the media unless as an object of class-driven scorn. So the asparagus imperative trumped the pandemic, even though Germany had earlier banned foreign workers and the Romanian lockdown was about to be prolonged for a further month. What followed was an epic stampede of thousands of workers to board low-cost flights specially chartered for the massive airbridge. Many had received their contracts on social media apps, others were raked in by able intermediaries, but all ended up crammed into the same nighttime bus rides to the airport. The ensuing images were shocking: a country in strict quarantine watched thousands streaming out of crammed busses into a small regional airport to board the planes. Given that many workers came from Suceava, Romania’s Covid-19 hotspot, we can only hope this will not turn out to have been one of Europe’s super-spreader events.

Costi Rogozanu and Daniela Gabor in Are western Europe’s food supplies worth more than east European workers’ health? (