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EU rules leave migrant pickers out in the cold

EU rules leave migrant pickers out in the cold

Published: 08 Aug 2012 15:41 GMT+02:00
Updated: 08 Aug 2012 15:41 GMT+02:00

A recent spike in violence and reports of poor working and living conditions of the migrant berry pickers have raised concerns among Swedes and brought the merit of the European Union’s labor policies into question.

According to migrant labour expert Mats Kullander of Oxford Research, a Stockholm-based think tank, the problem lies in the lack of employment contracts for EU migrant workers.

“EU citizens are no longer required to have an employment contract. That has been the most serious change in recent years,” he told The Local.

By contrast, berry pickers from outside the EU are only permitted to work in Sweden when they have a contract guaranteeing them a monthly wage as well as certain living expenses for the duration of their stay in Sweden.

Incidents of theft, assault and even allegations of human trafficking have arisen in recent weeks in the normally tranquil region around the city of Uppsala, some 70 kilometres north of Stockholm.

At an isolated campsite in the woods about two kilometers from Mehedeby, Turkish-speaking Bulgarians expressed their disappointment with what they have found in Sweden.

“Last year we got paid 25 kronor ($3.67) per kilo, this year it’s 12 kronor per kilo,” said one Bulgarian man from the Baltic Mountains who refused to give his name.

Wild blueberries sold by street vendors in Sweden typically sell in 150 gramme containers for about 25 kronor each. If bought by the kilo for 12 kronor each that would amount to a vendor’s profit of nearly 1,300 percent.

In addition to the low price for berries, the squalid conditions evident in the migrants’ camp are on par with that of a refugee camp.

The camp which houses about 100 Bulgarians, including children, had no toilets, showers, electricity, or sources of clean drinking water.

Violent incidents have also taken place including recent stone-throwing and brawling amongst the workers, leading to both arrests and hospitalizations.

Security is the main concern for Michael, a 25-year-old Bulgarian father of two living at the Mehedeby campsite. He claimed that some Swedes had been aggressive toward the migrant workers.

“We cannot feel safe because they were trying to attack us. I don’t know why, maybe they have some reason. Maybe they’ve seen someone stealing from them and have followed him here. I don’t know why,” he told The Local.

Last week approximately 200 Bulgarians were repatriated following an accusation of human trafficking and a subsequent sit-in by at least 100 Bulgarians at their country’s embassy in Stockholm.

“There were two people who came to the police and told us that they were here against their free will," explained Lisa Sannervik of the Uppsala police to The Local.

"The police started an investigation and one person, a 43 year old man, was arrested. These three people involved have now left for Bulgaria.”

Solutions to the security, economic, and living condition problems of the migrants have not been easily ascertainable.

According to Michael, the situation would improve by having the Bulgarians register their addresses and license plate numbers with Swedish authorities.

“Next year I just want the community to give us some place where we can stay. Also, I want the police to record all the license plates of the cars of those living there," he said, adding that such actions would make police reports simpler for any potential victims.

For Kullander, the next step is to acquire better information about the conditions of the migrant workers while also distributing information regarding the actual labor conditions in Sweden to would-be migrants still in Bulgaria.

“We have many questions unanswered. How many workers are in Sweden right now? Nobody knows exactly. Where do they come from? How much do they get paid, and so on. That issue has to be researched further,” he said.

“There needs to be better information for those people hoping to make an income explaining what the chances of that happening actually are.”

Jacob Sommer

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:55 August 8, 2012 by johan rebel
The EU ought to have left Bulgaria and Romania out in the cold, instead of admitting those of corrupt, primitive and undemocratic third-world countries as members.
16:59 August 8, 2012 by Scepticion
@ johan rebel. Why? Who else is going to pick berries for the Swedes at prices that Swedes can afford?
17:13 August 8, 2012 by k2kats
Rather than simply warn workers not to come pick berries in Sweden, why not establish standards for those who employ migrant workers?

Or is the issue that current standards not being enforced?
17:46 August 8, 2012 by Migga
I belive the issue is that there are more migrant workers tricked into going to Sweden then the number that are employed. The bulgarian men who were arrested and repatriated would be an indication of that.
04:21 August 9, 2012 by stablemate77
tell me really why people want to pick these berries.... for few moneys and a good life already becomes.....
22:21 August 9, 2012 by DAVID T
Baltic Mountains in Bulgaria?

We should give them nice apartments with heating and TV and free hand outs - Hell we do it for all the other immigrants - Why don't they get all the unemployable immigrants already here to pick the berries - They can get off their lazy backsides and earn their free ride
23:18 August 11, 2012 by JulieLou40
Surely the answer is for the migrant workers to turn up, pick the berries and then sell them on the streets in those 150g containers, themselves? Cut out the middle-man, so to speak.
17:37 August 13, 2012 by alecLoTh
Calm down David T. karma is a female dog. As a tax-paying citizen (Im assuming you are), you are well within your rights to question how the money is spent, but that does not empower you to denigrate the efforts of others or belittle their plight - especially when you make sweeping generalisations that border on lunacy.

I was an immigrant in Sweden and got absolutely nothing, I wasn't expecting anything. I got a job, the worst you can imagine - one you would probably refuse...all this despite the fact I was educated and qualified in IT...

No TV, no hand out, crappy apartment I paid for in an area you probably have never been to....nor would want to I'd imagine.

I often heard how it would have been better if I were totally unqualified, preferably illiterate and or a refugee. According to the state, I should be able to fend for myself - not a bad assumption, as I had made the very same one in coming to Sweden.

Many job applications later I discovered that contracting to foreign companies outside Sweden was not only easier, but probably the only way I could eat. It made no sense to remain. I promptly left without ever having cost you or any Swed a cent. I left a few months ago and often read with relief emails from Swedish companies telling me I didnt get the job this time, but to try some other time.... I dread to think what my position now would be had I remained.

I'm not blaming anyone in Sweden for how things turned out for me. Decisions have consequences. I'm saying stop assuming all immigrants are the same.
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