Fewer foreign berry pickers in Sweden

This year has seen a significant drop in the number of berry pickers coming to Sweden from countries outside the EU, since requirements and regulations have been sharpened for companies employing foreign berry pickers.

Fewer foreign berry pickers in Sweden

Following several years of scandals, shocking headlines about exploited pickers have been few this year.

Last year roughly 4,400 people were given work permits to work within agriculture, gardening, foresting and fishing. The vast majority of these are berry pickers.

This year, the corresponding figure is roughly 2,400 people.

“It’s not unlikely that our rules have caused those who previously brought people here and then used foul play have simply chosen not to apply this year,” said Alejandro Firpo, division manager at the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), to news agency TT.

“We’ve spoken to some of the people who’ve come here, and they feel a certain security that they’re getting paid. That must be the least one can demand of a company,” said Firpo to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

Over the past couple of years, thousands of berry pickers have been tricked into coming to Sweden from countries such as Vietnam, China and Bangladesh, having been promised work and lots of money.

Many sold all their possessions to come here and make their fortune, only to discover upon arrival that no money would be coming their way as it was impossible to meet the contracted requirement of berries – up to 60 kilos of berries per day.

Pickers were stranded without salaries, with no help to be found from the misbehaving companies, nor from authorities such as the Migration Board.

“Lots of mistakes were made. We received a good deal of criticism, some of it was justified,” said Firpo to Svenska Dagbladet.

This year, stricter demands have been implemented on berry picking companies. These include that employers must guarantee wages, and have a business registered in Sweden or another EU country.

“We’ve provided actors on the labour market with tools to ensure that wages are paid. If there’s trouble, we can point out the responsible employer in Europe, or the registered branch that must exist here otherwise,” explained Firpo to TT.

Thus far, in 2011 reports of unpaid wages and tricked berry pickers have been few, but there are exceptions. According to local media, some 20 Bulgarian pickers were stranded in Hälsingland, in northern Sweden, without being paid by their employer.

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Stockholm mum acquitted of trafficking

The 47-year-old Stockholm mum, who last year was sentenced to prison after keeping Polish women under “slave-like conditions” has been acquitted of the trafficking charges by the Svea Court of Appeal (Hovrätten).

The Polish women, reported to be in their early twenties, were forced to work as cleaners and nannies for up to 19 hours per day, seven days a week in return for slave wages.

It was discovered at the time that the young women were housed in a cramped closet in a lavishly furnished three-bedroom apartment in the Stockholm suburb of Solna.

According to newspaper reports the young women were subjected to threats of violence and were forced to steal clothing and home decor on behalf of their employer who had originally promised them a monthly wage of 10,000 kronor ($1,400).

One of the women in fact received eight kronor a day for four months, while another received no money at all, according to the charge sheet.

The matter was brought to the attention of the police after one of the women was able to report the treatment to the Polish embassy in Stockholm.

However, the Court of Appeal found on Friday that although the woman had tricked the four Polish women to come and work for her in Sweden, paying them less than she had initially promised, it was not a case of human trafficking.

Instead the woman was convicted of fraud.

Instead of serving 2 years she will now have her sentence shortened to 10 months in prison.