“They were unhappy at the remuneration and wanted to stop picking. But not all. The seventeen who came from south Vietnam wanted to continue to work. It seems that they had been locked up by the north Vietnamese,” Mats Persson told the newspaper.
Several police units, interpreters and Stockholm embassy staff have been obliged to travel to the small rural community of Branäs in Värmland to mediate in the conflict between the groups of Vietnamese and their employers.
The Vietnamese migrant workers are spending the summer working to pick berries and many have taken out loans on their houses and borrowed money from friends and family in order to make the trip to Sweden.
Around 120 of the workers went out on strike on Tuesday complaining that it was impossible for them to pick sufficient berries to pay for their trip and earn enough money.
“We were told we would be able to pick between 60 and 120 kilogrammes of berries per day. But this is impossible, at best we can manage 10-30 kilogrammes,” one of the striking workers, Le Thi Hong, told the newspaper.
The workers are employed by Vietnamese recruitment firm TTLC and are organized in Sweden by Rabema service. The workers report that they have forked out up to 15,000 kronor ($2,000) to fund their two month stay in addition to the 9,000 kronor they pay in board and lodging.
In return they have been paid 14 kronor per kilo.
While some of the workers are protesting against the employment conditions it seems that others, keen to work, are directing their ire towards their countrymen.
Groups of south Vietnamese workers have had to move to an alternative, secret location under police escort after refusing to join the strike.
“The north Vietnamese have been so threatening that we can not have them in the same place,” Svante Vanbert for Rabema explained.
The company has now given the workers an ultimatum – “work hard, and we will help you to find enough berries, or go home.”
Rabema reported on Thursday evening that five of the striking workers have elected to make the journey home while the other 115 will resume work on Friday.