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Chinese berry pickers march in protest

AFP/The Local · 6 Aug 2010, 17:04

Published: 06 Aug 2010 17:04 GMT+02:00

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Thousands of seasonal workers from Asia, most of them from Thailand, come to Sweden each summer mainly to pick wild berries in the north under sometimes

difficult working conditions.

"Last night, around 120 Chinese berry pickers sat down on the road to protest," Kerstin Asplund, who is in charge of social services in the northern municipality of Storuman, told AFP.

The protesters carried out their sit-in after hiking 15 kilometres, carrying signs reading "SOS" and "Help," near the wooded area where they had been asked to pick berries, some 160 kilometres from the Arctic Circle.

"It is difficult to know what they want exactly, since there is a language barrier, but we know they are asking for an increase in pay," Asplund said.

After their sit-in, monitored by police, the demonstrators were driven by bus to a public venue that had agreed to accommodate them.

"We have explained to their employer, a Chinese company, that it is their responsibility to take care of this. But they tell us they are not able to discuss with them, that they do not want to work," Asplund said.

The demonstrators are part of a group of 200 Chinese berry pickers who arrived in Sweden's isolated northern region in recent days.

Story continues below…

After a disastrous season last year sent many of the foreign berry pickers home weighed down by debt instead of profits, they have this year for the first time been provided with contracts guaranteeing them a monthly wage of at least 16,372 kronor ($2,321).

Some Swedish unions however say the minimum salary is insufficient, pointing out that it in some cases is hardly enough to cover the money the workers have to shell out for things like plane tickets, housing and car rental.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

18:46 August 6, 2010 by Nemesis
They deserve more money that that.

They are treated like dirt.

There needs to be a minimum wage in Sweden and it needs to be enforced.
18:50 August 6, 2010 by mikmak
You mean there needs to be a minimum wage in China and it needs to be enforced?
18:59 August 6, 2010 by Anmiga
That is a helluva lot more than minimum wage in the US, and the difference to what they would make back in China is probably even greater...I have no sympathy for them.
19:27 August 6, 2010 by Mr Tyne Tees
Typical swedes
19:29 August 6, 2010 by Renfeh Hguh
What were all the unemployed Swedes doing over summer?
19:33 August 6, 2010 by SWOT
I was asked by some Chinese agent to arrange this kind of workers come to Sweden to pick up berries. However, none of the farm owners want to pay the legal salary which is required by migration board. That means, the employer in this case faked the contract to get workers coming into Sweden. I had been working in a berry farm before. The best picker cannot work out the volume of berries which covers the salary migration board requires. If the farm owners pay the minimum salary the migration board requires, we would not have such cheap berries to eat.
19:39 August 6, 2010 by klader
What the hell is your theory, Anmiga? Just because they would probably get lower pay in China, they have to accept the illegal and lower than minimum wage here in Sweden?

What will you do if your employer does this to you?

Well, guess we'll have to say we have no sympathy for you
20:05 August 6, 2010 by Anmiga
As far as I know there is no legal minimum wage in Sweden, correct me if I'm wrong.

Oh and why would you go to another country knowing that you would be paid a certain amount and then you complain about it once you get there? They signed a contract.

"...they have this year for the first time been provided with contracts guaranteeing them a monthly wage of at least 16,372 kronor ($2,321)."

Klader: "What will you do if your employer does this to you? Well, guess we'll have to say we have no sympathy for you"

What do you mean? What has the employer done wrong (according to the article, I do not know what SWOT is talking about). When you sign a contract you accept the conditions of that contract, if you don't like the conditions, renegotiate or leave the table.

I have worked for far less than what those berry pickers are working for, and I never once complained, and I don't intend to start now.
20:08 August 6, 2010 by popeye1250
Pickers from China? Vietnam? Thousands of miles away!

Why not get pickers from the Ukraine, Russia?

Many people in those country don't have work and would be glad to come and pick berries and make some money!

And most of their salaries wouldn't be eaten up in travel expenses.

And once the harvest is done they return home.

Much better solution.
20:19 August 6, 2010 by Anmiga
@popeye, I agree, sounds like a much better solution.
20:53 August 6, 2010 by Nathan
This berry-gate happens almost every year with workers going back home empty handed with a donated plan ticket. I am wondering why no one comes up with a permanent solution. I don't mind a more expensive berry, provided that workers get a decent salary and return their homes happy.
21:12 August 6, 2010 by grantike
is the work still available couple of guys will like to take them for 16,372 kronor for a start.hahahaha i guess i have nothing to say
21:18 August 6, 2010 by Sherian Elizabeth
Wow, @2,321.00 a month? If so, can I sign up? I live on a lot less then that here in the USA and I pay full rent, food, etc.

@Anmiga: I agree with you, I to have worked for far less then the berry pickers. If they don't like the contract then stay in China or wherever and find a job.
21:45 August 6, 2010 by aaww
@popeye @Anmiga

because people from vietnam, thailand and china are still interested in the salary paid by the berry farm in sweden.

those salary will not attract any people in Europe, even from the eastern block.
21:56 August 6, 2010 by Sherian Elizabeth

you got to be kidding me, people in interested in working for $2,321.00 a month. Can I send over a few million people who would be very willing to work for that amount, including me? What do people want, we all can't be millionaires.
01:08 August 7, 2010 by dizzymoe33
Yeah I want to come to Sweden and pick berries I live off of a thousand dollars less than what the Chinese workers are getting paid each month and I pay mortgage and food and medicine/medical expenses. I don't understand what they are whining about?
02:15 August 7, 2010 by heu
Correct me if I'm wrong, but making a relation between this and the article related to Vietnamese berry pickers, I believe that the issue here is that they are charged for accommodation and food which sums up to about the same as their salary. So in reality they are just lured into Sweden with promises of a good salary and end up being exploited instead.


"If the farm owners pay the minimum salary the migration board requires, we would not have such cheap berries to eat."

Please tell me where you buy your berries. They are freaking expensive anywhere I have seen.
03:02 August 7, 2010 by albert1974
@heu: also all my salary ends up all for accommodation and food!

however 16'000 sek (I guess before taxes) is not a bad salary. do they really guarantee this as minimum salary? there should be something else going on there, and as usual The Local is not reporting all the news, nor focusing on the real issue!
09:15 August 7, 2010 by Puffin
Wow - seems as though there are a fari few gullible people on here who actually think that people end up with 16,000 kr for berry picking LOL

The contracts are a scam! The other cases in the media this week show that the the 'minimum' salary is not what people get paid. These workers don't end up with 16,000 kr at all! The employers charge them a whole raft of 'expenses' with a whole load of deductions for:

- travel to Sweden

- accomodation - charged 150 kr per day to live in condemmed buildings

- food costs

- travel to work costs

- visa costs

The newspaper Dalarnas Tidning has seen the contracts of the workers who were supposed to be in Särna - the contracts sounded good - the ones in Särna were offered 17,700 - but when the newspaper added up the 'repayable expenses' these came to 16000 - so a month's work for just over $200 - anyone want to sign up??

In addition these are productivity contracts. The 16000 is based on picking almost 100kg (200lbs) of berries per day - if you pick less you don't get paid. If there are no berries then no pay - which is a big problem this year.

Many of these workers have been abaondoned in tiny villages in the Norrland forest - often in abandoned and condemmed school buildings which the employer rents for peanuts and then charges each worker 5000SEK per month for! (for a group of 50 that's 250,000 that the employer changes for a bulding that probably cost less than 20,000 to rent)

Many workers are 100s of km from the nearest shops/town and have no food, no transport, no money and speak no English - many want to go home but will likely never get paid and will end up in debt to the scam company that employed them.

Scial services were called out to a family found in the forest in Falun this week living under a groundsheet in the forest with no money - just abandoned in the forests by a shady company
11:31 August 7, 2010 by insect
I live in Sweden and I am jobless. I would work for that money if only someone would give me the job. But nooooo. They have to import people to do it. Arbetsförmedlingen sucks!
11:40 August 7, 2010 by americanska
@Anmiga - you are right - the Federal Minimum wage in the US is $7.25 an hour, which i think it too high for some areas when you think of cost of living. And unless these guys are working over 14 hours a day - they are making more than that.
12:30 August 7, 2010 by theibmsstate2000
swede dont aceept forigner arbetforminng or watever they wont help to give you job,if you want to waste the time than u can live here.
13:05 August 7, 2010 by Puffin
The Swedish Newspapers have reported widely that the actual take home pay of these workers - once all the company's 'expenses' are deducted - is around 10 kronor per hour or just over $1

So if you want to work for $1 per hour and share a double room with 7 others in a building without a fire saftey certificate - go ahead and contact the company!
15:53 August 7, 2010 by roch
I want to add to Puffins post. The people here who are commenting are not reading fully her post or understanding that they had to pick a required amount per day or they would get no pay. Even the most skilled and fast pickers would be hard pushed to pick the amount, if at all.

So while it sounds like a good monthly rate, in reality once the expenses have come off and the fact that there are no berries, AND having to meet an unattainable quota, it is a shady and shocking contract that they have signed.

My partner and I watched this on the news the other night and were really saddened and shocked that this is not stopped- surely there has to be a way to stop the middle man, or the people making these contracts hiring what amounts to slave labour and shockingly bad conditions.

I wouldn't wish this on anyone. The workers have been duped and it happens year after year. It's time that someone in power actually stopped this from happening. No one wins.
18:15 August 7, 2010 by bjinger
to #2:

There are an enforced minimum wage in China,that's you don't know. I suggest you to learn more before open your mouth. Don't be under the illusion that everything in Swden are the best.
18:48 August 7, 2010 by GefleFrequentFlyer
Sweden should petition the UN to stop these abuses on these poor refugees....err.. berry pickers....stop the presses! Call in Hans Brix and Cald Bilt! Send in a aid flotilla "Free Berry Pickers NOW"...
18:58 August 7, 2010 by izbz
Yeh, yeh 16,000 amonth.(before Tax????).....but is there any mention about how long they have to work each day? Most probably they will have to pay for the money loan to them to come all the way here to Sweden to work, and they might even charge interest like loan sharks in Asia (i.e. interest on top of interest).

When I first came to Stockholm, I was offer a job as a cook in a Chinese restaurant. The boss told me that I can earn 10,000 after tax but I have to work from 10am to 10 pm. I thanked him by asking him to go fly kite. And mind you, whether he pay taxes if I agreed to work , I guess I wasn't dumb enough to accept the job to find out.
19:11 August 7, 2010 by americanska
izbz - those hours aren't that bad. sometimes you need to sacrifice to get ahead. something people don't seem to understand nowadays. they just want the government to guarantee that you can have an ok life and not work too hard.

they signed a contract - if they were lied about the details before signing the contract that is one thing. but otherwise they are screwed.
20:56 August 7, 2010 by Internaional woman
I can speak Chinese ,if needed I would like to help .
23:50 August 7, 2010 by rumcajs

Ohhh, I guess you are are one of those people who sacrifice a lot. It's easy to say it when you've lived a nice live all your life, ain't it?

16 before taxes is what u get for a lot of jobs in Stockholm.... that gets to 10 or 12 or something like that, so you are right... it aint that bad, BUT those persons in Stockholm live there because they like it ok simply think they LIVE better there than in their countries, or what ever... but they live there.

These guys came for very far to pick berries in the middle of nowhere and will just survive those days there and go back home the same or less money in their pockets. If they didn't come just because of the landscape (which I like) in a very low budget, this is not a good deal cos at the end all the effort will be for nothing. So, your sentence "sacrifice to get ahead" is missing the "get ahead" part in this story.
01:54 August 8, 2010 by tuerd1982
"language barrier" this is a bull shiiit. There are too many Chinese people in Sweden, why they don't call them. Even they can ask me to help, I also can speak Chinese. I think the language is not a problem.

How many country have a "base salary"? I guess, not so many. In my opinion, 16000 is already high. The newspaper man who works at tidingsbara get a salary around 10000. No one thought about they earn less, but when it comes to this case every one start to debate. why? To be realistic people.

I agree with Renfeh Hguh. Why they don't ask people in Sweden. I believe there are quite many people would like to do this job. Specially foreign students, e.g., me.

I guess there are some other reason.
07:27 August 8, 2010 by glamelixir
I live in Sweden, am european with a master degree, can't get any job and willing to pick berries for that money.

Why on earth did they bring this people with the high unemployment we have?

non sense.
10:01 August 8, 2010 by pisaier
The employer should go to jail. The Chinese workers are lured to Sweden.
10:40 August 8, 2010 by Puffin
@ glamelixir

The reason that they bring in foreign workers is that they are easier to con - the companies have absolutely no intention of paying 16,000

Most educated people living in Sweden would realise that the contracts are a complete CON and would not be prepared to do the job when they realise that the REAL amount that the pickers get is around 1000 kr - IF they pick 90kg PER DAY

Last year most of the workers ended up in DEBT to the company for their 'expenses' in Sweden
12:09 August 8, 2010 by Makaveli
I wonder how many of you loud mouths (who think that's a lot of money) have ever picked berries. Its a painstaking job and every last dyme is well earned. I bet you'd quit after a day or two. Before you rush to making careless comments which are not well thought out, u should understand that there is one reason why these employers go all the way to Asia to get these workers - Thats because very few people around here (even in Eastern Europe) can take up such a job. Its simply back breaking, and you need two things to last on the job - a lil bit of desperation for the money and the willingness to be driven like an ass.

And for all those who say they make far less than that in a month, am curious about one thing. What kind of job is it you have? Please don't even answer coz i know it will never measure up to picking berries. One more thing! If u are making less and not complaining, that doesn't mean that somebody making more doesn't have a right to complain.

Treat these people with some respect and pay them what they deserve. What happened to Fair Trade?????????
13:01 August 8, 2010 by Swedesmith
In the U.S.A. here in farm country, school kids often get summer jobs detasseling corn. It is hot, hard and dirty work, but it is a good way to make a bit of money for a young person. Perhaps something like that could be done with Swedish youth.
20:06 August 8, 2010 by izbz

Easy to say, yeah I agree about sacrifice to get ahead but........try bend up and down for only 2 hrs then tell me if it is worth sacrificing. I just hope you have a strong back

Just imagine doing that for 10hrs a day.


I am sure you can find out where to find a berries picking job since some of those Chinese who are less educated than you can. Happy berries hunting!!!!
20:43 August 8, 2010 by aaww
@Sherian Elizabeth

you can send as much as possible people you like if they are happy to work under this salary in Sweden. don't come and live on swedish welfare.

i don't know how familiar you are with the cost of living in Sweden, 16,372 kronor a month is far from enough for living in this high cost country, berry pickers need to carry cost including 1) air ticket to and from sweden 2) residence cost 3) rental cars etc.

taken last year as a example, since 2009 was not a good year for berries, most of the berry picker actually went home with liabilities.
08:42 August 9, 2010 by Sherian Elizabeth

I don't live on welfare here in the USA and I make do with the little money that I have, it's called being very thrifty. As for the cost of living, I really don't know of a place in this world that is cheap...............here in the USA there is no place cheap to live. I have traveled all over the USA and even in my home town of 900 people I was surprised at how high the rents where. I can't afford a car so I have to live where there is public transporation just to get to the basics, so I chose to live in a city. Believe me, it's not cheap by a long shot, I don't have a penthouse, just a small 400 sq foot apt and it's expensive(rent) and I won't even begin with the cost of food, etc. $2,316.00 (16,372sek) is a lot of money here. It's just that the world is going CRAZY with the cost of living and there is no end in sight. As for berries, I love them and they are good for you and I can't afford them.
09:01 August 9, 2010 by roch

You really have no idea.

400sqm IS a luxury penthouse here! Most apartments are 50sqm-100. I know of people living in 35sqm flats.

I really don't understand what drives people to comment on a forum in a country that they don't live in and obviously have NO IDEA just how things work here. OR cant be bothered to read all the posts, especially puffins, which says pretty clearly the situation.

This article does not give all the facts. Anyone that lives here knows this as we have seen it on the news and in the papers that actually report fully.

So ignorant. You are trying to compare apples and oranges with knowledge of only one of them.

Would you work for about $7 an hour BEFORE TAX?`Because in reality that it what it works out to, which is why no swedish student will do it.Go back an read any of Puffins posts, she is a long time member of this site, fluent in swedish and knows what she is talking about.

Until then, please leave your uninformed ridiculous comparisons at home.
10:00 August 9, 2010 by shame, shame
@roch said feet which = 37 sq.metres.

From the article:

After a disastrous season last year sent many of the foreign berry pickers home weighed down by debt instead of profits, they have this year for the first time been provided with contracts guaranteeing them a monthly wage of at least 16,372 kronor ($2,321).

Some Swedish unions however say the minimum salary is insufficient, pointing out that it in some cases is hardly enough to cover the money the workers have to shell out for things like plane tickets, housing and car rental.

looks like all the facts to me. Whether true of false the rest is just hearsay. If you want opinion articles maybe you should look under "opinion" above.
10:23 August 9, 2010 by roch
fair point, missed the feet vs metre thing.

400ft is nearly 122 m so is still roomy by sweden standards.

However, too add to the facts it has been widely reported on the news that the minimum amount needed to be picked per day is pretty much unattainable so therefore they will not get paid unless daily quotas are picked. Which is why it is such a bad contract that they have unwittingly signed.
11:13 August 9, 2010 by LeoKinmann
@roch, missed again. house area is measured in square units. you have to divide by 3*3 = 9 to get the size in square meters. 400 square feet is only about 37 square meters. not to spacious by any means.

However, I totally agree that Puffin addressed the matter much better than any of us. Before saying the berry pickers have nothing to complain about, read post #19.
12:03 August 9, 2010 by roch

well at least we can agree on two things.

1: My math skills are shite

2: The Chinese workers are being ripped off and are in a bad way.

18:29 August 9, 2010 by Mb 65
Why don't they stay in their own country and protest about the low wages there. They not what they can do if they don't like it don't come here.
15:01 August 11, 2010 by hugedingleberry
Are they dingleberry pickers too? I will give them a better wage if they can dingle pick.
09:16 August 12, 2010 by bjinger
Shocking !!!!! Human rights disaster in Sweden.

we need human rights in this case. To my understanding, the salaries mentioned in this case is not the ones that we know. The truth is that, the pickers work long hours to meet the quata, car renting, working in a no man zone far from the community, no food supply, crowded and slave-treated accomandation. The are exploited like slaves. If the local Swedes know the work condition, they would run away, that explains why no employment from the locals.
20:25 August 21, 2010 by Jim__in_Vietnam
Sweden is getting a lot of bad PR from this berry-picking business. Why don't you Swedes just get off your butts and pick your own berries? And if a sufficient supply of berries are not picked to meet demand, then do without them! But don't bring in foreign workers when you know that they will be exploited and cheated by their employers and/or labour brokers. Damn!! Maybe you Swedes should consider re-introducing religion. It appears that you have no conception of good and bad (Except when it comes to lingonberries.)
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