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.