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The invisible workforce: seasonal migration in the forest sector 

They help farmers to pick asparagus and support foresters with salvage-cutting bark-beetle damaged trees: The EU – and especially countries like Spain, Poland and Germany – is heavily dependent on so called “seasonal migrants”, either from other EU Member States or third world countries. Bringing the issue closer to home, Germany receives around 300,000 workers per year for agricultural, horticultural and forestry work, many of them from Central and Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Romania. Very often, they remain invisible. We asked ourselves, how many of these workers can we specifically find in the forest sector? What roles do they play and how can these be distinguished from the agricultural sector? How are the working conditions? And what can we do to make this issue more visible?  

On 27th October 2022, 3 experts on forest sector employment and education and 11 journalists from Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Romania, Serbia, Spain, and Sweden, met in Berlin with three objectives in mind. First, we wanted to identify the challenges of seasonal forest migrants and the system around these challenges. Secondly – and that’s why we invited different journalists – we aimed at evaluating the communicational and informative impact of the topic for the media in Europe. Finally, we wanted to build a network of trained journalists on seasonal migration, to be prepared and equipped for future disasters and information when needed. The workshop was organised by Forest Europe, International Union of Forest research Organizations (IUFRO) in collaboration with Migrapreneur and 2811. The challenges we identified were diverse: seasonal migrants have a much higher risk to be exposed to unethical recruitment practices creating the risk of bonded and forced labour. They are often faced with inadequate living conditions as well as limitations of movement. In addition, they suffer from poor working conditions such as low wages, long working days, no rest periods as well as limited safety equipment and training. Finally, they have in many cases limited or no access to social protection or e.g. health care and risk of abuse and harassment. Other constraints include language barrier which might complicate access to information related to legislation and rights. Seasonal workers also face the challenge of lack of skills recognition and skills development opportunities.  

One of the keynote speakers, a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) pointed out that ILO has four instruments in place to protect migrant workers, refugees, and displaced persons:  

In their recently published Policy Brief on just transition, ILO also calls for forest workers to be equipped with the right skills and access to meaningful and high-quality training and skills upgrading and the promotion of indigenous peoples’ knowledge and practices. The speaker from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) also reiterated the need for inclusivity in forest education to cater for different groups, which was one of the recommendations from the recently launched Global Assessment of Forest Education Report, 2022. This is the first ever assessment on forest education at a global scale covering all education levels from primary schools up to universities and colleges. The project was a joint effort of three main partners (FAO; IUFRO and ITTO) and nine regional partners. 

One of the experts at the workshop Dr. Jörg Schweinle from Thünen Institute thanked the workshop for its fruitful discussions “I hope that journalists will pick up the topic and bring it to the attention of the public. I have new research ideas and ideas on how to obtain empirical data which is a challenging but exciting task.” 

It is without a doubt that forests and the forest sector play a key role for a just transition and climate change mitigation. As such, seasonal migrants can contribute to solving the problem of shortage of forest workers and replace the ageing forest sector workforce. But forest work needs to be decent. This is an important criterion that distinguishes Green Jobs from other jobs and was also emphasized by Forest Europe in the Green Forest Jobs in the Pan-European Region report published by Thünen Institute. To increase the visibility of the issue, we need to ensure that there is sufficient coverage from the media. Case studies on seasonal migration from countries that recruit seasonal workers can also be a good starting point when we try to obtain figures on the number of seasonal workers and the role they play.  

Srividya Kalyanaraman, a Freelance Journalist from Belgrade, Serbia, summarized: “The workshop took place at an important time, it opened my eyes, and I was able to learn from the best minds, and I have many questions that I need to find answers to.” 

For more information about Green Jobs and Forest Education, please contact and  

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