Exploring the contribution of migrant labour in Greek agriculture

Apostolos Papadopoulos, Institute of Social Research — National Centre for Social Research (EKKE), Greece

Loukia-Maria Fratsea, Department of Geography — Harokopio University, Greece

Stavros Spyrellis, Institute of Social Research — National Centre for Social Research (EKKE), Greece

Pavlos Baltas, Institute of Social Research — National Centre for Social Research (EKKE), Greece

The impact of migrant labour on rural areas is a relatively recent field of research (Kasimis et al., 2003; 2010), since it is generally considered that migrants contribute in the main to economic development and multicultural-ism in urban settings. The rural milieu is seen as residual compared to the vast transformations and globalization trends which primarily affect urban areas. Since the late 1980s, observations have been made which illustrate that the new international migration is connected to changes in the European labour market, while it was also evident that migrant labour contributed to the informal economy, and thus to the fragmentation, of southern European societies (Pugliese, 1992; Mingione, 1995).

These developments were linked to features of the Southern European countries, many of which had recently joined the EU and had similar sectoral and labour market needs. Moreover, it became evident that the countries of southern Europe-Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain — had transformed into countries of immigration (i.e. that they were new immigration countries). Economic, demographic and social structure characteristics and their inter-connections — have determined aspects of the demand for labour which explain the composition of migrant flows. A “Southern European model of migration” was suggested, which combines the main aspects of the new developments linked to migrant labour inflows into southern European countries. This model was introduced and elaborated by King and various co-authors (King et al., 1997; King, 2000) and discussed further by other authors (Ribas-Mateos, 2004; Peixoto et al.,2012), some of whom called its heuristic value into question (Baldwin-Edwards, 2012). While the model applies mainly to Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, attempts have been made to include Cyprus and other EU countries including Malta, Slovenia and Croatia (King, Thomson, 2008). This model was reiterated more recently in an attempt to integrate the changes arising from the financial recession (King, De Bono, 2013).

In this context, the discussion on migrant labour in rural areas of southern Europe was triggered by a paper by Hoggart and Mendoza (1999) which tried to adapt Piore’s (1979) approach for application to rural southern Europe. Hoggart and Mendoza (1999) argued that migrant labour plugged “holes” in the rural/local labour markets of southern European countries, seeking to utilize Piore’s discussion in the case of southern European, and more particularly Spanish, agriculture. This argument also seemed relevant to Greece, where migrant labour responded to the demand for both unskilled and skilled migrant labour (Kasimis et al., 2003; Kasimis, Papadopoulos, 2005). What is more, systematic empiri-cal studies illustrated the various aspects of migrant labour’s inclusion in the local/rural labour market. Due to a number of demographic, social and economic challenges, migrant contributions were considered important not just for the survival of farming households, but more significantly for the competitiveness of family-owned enterprises. Various facets of this research revealed that migrant labour also had an immense impact on women’s involvement in farm employment (Papadopoulos, 2006), while different migrant labour groups followed different social mobility trajectories (Papadopoulos, 2009; Papadopoulos, Fratsea 2013; Fratsea, Papadopoulos 2020) and/or transnational strategies (Papadopoulos, 2012).

In any case, the term “migrant labour” may be conceived as a blanket term that covers various migrant groups (i.e. permanent/seasonal/circular labour, documented/undocumented labour, regular/semi-regular/precarious labour, etc.) (Kasimis et al., 2010), concealing the divisions, hierarchies and dependencies among them. The discussion on migrant labour in rural Greece has had a significant impact on the emergence of a related literature in other European countries. Although this impact cannot be easily measured, we can mention a number of studies that explicitly refer to the role of migrant labour in the transformation of non-metropolitan areas in Portugal and Spain (Fonseca, 2008; Moren-Alegret, 2008; Camarero et al., 2012), and the role played by migrant labourers in retaining Italy’s informal labour relations and intensive food systems (Kilkey, Urzi, 2017).

It is also worth mentioning the impact of the Greek discussion in other European countries, such as Norway (Rye, Andrejewska, 2010; Rye, 2014), Sweden (Hedberg et al., 2012) and the UK (McAreavy, 2012; McAreavy, 2017).One of the main arguments to emerge from the Greek discussion is that migrant labour has become a major component in agricultural production and rural development in southern Europe, and Greece in particular. The different ways in which migrant labour has fit into the existing socioeconomic and productive systems in rural southern Europe have been discussed in a rapidly expanding literature (Hoggart, Mendoza, 1999; Kasimis et al., 2003; Jentch, 2007; Papadopoulos et al., 2018). Migrants have been received as a “multi-functional” labour force that responds to various labour needs in rural areas (e.g. in farming, construction, tour-ism, personal services); however, the different jobs/tasks undertaken has led to significant differentiation among migrants. In fact, southern European countries have received a number of migrant/ethnic groups who have followed differing spatial and social mobility trajectories (Kasimis, Papadopoulos, 2005; Papadopoulos, Fratsea, 2017). Especially in areas where intensive agricultural systems prevail, the presence of large numbers of migrant labourers has been instrumental in bolstering production dynamics by keeping labour costs low and securing adequate quantities of skilled/less skilled labour (Gertel, Sippel, 2014; Corrado et al., 2017), both of which are needed if farmers/agricultural producers want to be competitive in international markets. This intensive agricultural production regime is supported by formal net-works of labour recruitment, but informal brokers who organize and secure the continuation of new migrant flows into those areas also play an important role (De Genova, 2002; Krissman, 2005).

Migrant practices and strategies are continuously reconstructed on the basis of existing migration policy measures, which are-directly or indirectly-pivotal in creating regular, semi-regular and irregular tiers within the migrant labour force (Papadopoulos et al., 2018). The capacity of migration policies to allow for regularized migrant labour and/or to cater for various seasonal, temporary or ad hoc requirements, therefore creates a complex canvas of migrant labourers (Castles, 2006). Policy schemes allowing for seasonal, flexible and temporary migrant labour are particularly relevant in the case of southern European agriculture, which requires a sizeable labour force to fulfil its role within an increasingly globalized economy. The aim of this paper is to critically discuss the contribution of migrant employment to Greek agriculture over the past several decades. The paper is structured thus: the next section provides an overview of the academic discussion of migrants in rural Greece and offers a framework for the interpretation of migrant employment in Greek agriculture. This is followed by an analytical account of the structural characteristics of the Greek agricultural sector. Compared to other EU countries, a distinctive feature of Greek agriculture is its important position in the economy and in society in different time periods and for different population groups, either as a “sector of departure” or a “sector of arrival”. Next, we focus on the changing characteristics of migrant labour in Greek agriculture since the early 1990s. Methodologically, the analysis is based on elaborating data from various sources including National Accounts, Farm Structures, and Population Censuses from the last thirty years. This analysis is supported by policy reports and grey literature describing the evolution of migrant labour in Greece, and in rural areas in particular. Based on this analysis, the paper concludes with reflections on the prospects for migrant labour in Greek agriculture, particularly in an era of changing migration flows and restricted mobility due to COVID-19.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.36253/rea-12574

Read Full Text: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/rea/article/view/12574

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