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Elk hunts and 'paparazzi' threaten berry pickers

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09:31 CEST+02:00
A firm in northern Sweden has claimed in a letter to the Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) that its berry pickers face a slew of dangers including poisonous mushrooms, elk hunters, monotony, and "paparazzi-style" journalists.

Berry firm Norrskensbär from Skellefteå has in its letter identified traffic accidents involving elk and slippery roads as the most common causes of work related accidents for their berry pickers, but also names a further raft of possible dangers to health and safety.

Among them are: sharp branches or stones, alone in the forest (sic), elk hunting, aggressive media, superstition, poisonous mushrooms, bad mobile phone signal, and standing in a monotone position.

"Aggressive media" are classified as a "high risk" and the firm describes journalist attempts to approach the pickers as "almost like paparazzi". The firm details a new policy for 2010 that approaches from the media will be handled through camp leaders.

There has been significant coverage in the national media in recent weeks regarding the pay and working conditions of berry pickers, most of whom are seasonal immigrant workers who pay substantial amounts of money to come to Sweden from south-east Asia.

Much of the focus has been on pay and has centred around allegations that berries are in short supply and thus workers are unable to earn the sums required to fund their trip and return home with money in their pockets.

New regulations were introduced in 2009 to ensure that the berry pickers were guaranteed a minimum wage but according to some media reports many of the workers then sign a second contract waiving their right and instead receive payment for berries picked.

Union representatives have expressed concern that the pickers are open to exploitation and suggest that many are unaware of what they are signing.

"Now that the season has started we are starting to hear from pickers reports of double contracts. It is of course outrageous as it is in breach of the collective agreement," Inga-Britt Svensson at union Kommunal told the Dagens Nyheter daily.

The Local's attempts to contact Norrskensbär on Thursday morning have been unsuccessful.

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