The ability for migrant seasonal agriculture workers to continue harvesting fruit and vegetables in other member states was specifically requested by EU leaders, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, during a video conference on 26 March.

The previous day Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed also made a strong appeal during a virtual meeting of EU agriculture ministers for the continued free movement of labour and the need to avoid any disruption to agrifood supply chains due to border closures.

During their video conference on 26 March, EU leaders asked the European Commission to draw up guidelines to ensure that seasonal workers, which in some cases are regarded as "critical", were able to continue working.

In their joint statement, leaders promised to "urgently address, with the assistance of the [European] Commission, the ... problems [of] ... cross-border and seasonal workers who have to be able to continue essential activities while avoiding further spread of the virus." 

The European Commission duly issued guidelines on 30 March, stating that seasonal agriculture workers in some cases performed "critical" harvesting and planting functions and should be treated in the same manner as key workers such as healthcare professionals, researchers, pharmaceutical workers among others, when it came to their ability to freely cross borders.

The commission guidelines state: "Some sectors of the economy, in particular the agricultural sector, rely heavily in several member states on seasonal workers from other member states. 

"In such a situation, member states should treat those workers in the same manner as the workers that exercise critical occupations [such as healthcare workers etc]."

The guidelines say countries should allow such seasonal workers to continue crossing their borders "if work in the sector concerned is still allowed in the host member state".

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Furthermore, member states were requested to "communicate to the employers the necessity to provide for adequate health and safety protection".

The importance of allowing critical seasonal harvesters to continue working was also raised on 25 March by French, Spanish and Italian agriculture ministers during a video conference with other member states, including Ireland, the day before the leaders' call.

During the meeting Minister Creed said the need to fight the spread of the coronavirus had to be "underpinned" by the "continuity of food production and supply across the European Union".

According to a speaking note, seen by RTÉ News, Mr Creed highlighted the importance of maintaining the free movement of labour which was "particularly important in ensuring the continued effective functioning of agri-food supply chains".

He called on the commission to ensure that "border checks do not unnecessarily disrupt the free movement of goods or labour", especially when it came to agri-food supply chains.

He said: "The key priority for all of us is to take the necessary steps to ensure that producers and processors can continue to operate effectively, that supply lines can be kept open, that we continue to feed people, and that the economic impact on the agri-food and fisheries sectors can be minimised."

The European Commission has said EU member states should act in a coordinated manner when it comes to the closure of borders and the issues of cross-border and seasonal workers, following disruptive scenes at borders when the pandemic first struck.