“The Asian pickers are suddenly more expensive and low-wage European pickers have become interesting to employers again. It is hardly a surprise that this is happening,” said Tord Ingesson, expert on migration policy at the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen – LO) to news agency TT.
The new guidelines stipulated that berry pickers could only be hired by a foreign company with an affiliate in Sweden, which would be held responsible for following the work conditions in the contracts.
Further, the company had to be able to prove that it could pay the berry pickers’ salaries even if the harvest was poor and it was required to show proof that it had informed the pickers both of what kind of job they would be carrying out and of the work conditions involved.
However, as EU citizens don’t need a work permit the new guidelines don’t apply to them.
According to Ingesson this has meant that the problem has shifted from Asian berry pickers being mistreated to EU citizens.
Monday saw the remand hearing in Uppsala of a Bulgarian resident under suspicion of people-smuggling berry pickers to Sweden.
The 43-year-old man was arrested last week after allegedly luring other Bulgarians into coming to Sweden with the promises of a salary, a home, and a job.
However, instead the workers ended up in a makeshift campsite in Mehedeby, south of Gävle, with no running water or bathroom facilities.
The camp was initially set up with permission from the land owner and is home to several hundred berry pickers, most of whom are from Bulgaria.
Lately, however, tensions have been escalating and the camp was targeted by what was believed to be a stone-throwing attack carried out by local youths.
After a few dramatic weeks, the Bulgarian ambassador is scheduled to meet representatives for the Söderhamn and Tierp municipalities on Tuesday to discuss the problems with the berry picker camps, according to local paper Söderhamns-Kuriren.
The more than one hundred berry pickers resident in the camp now risk eviction but so far the planned action has been halted, pending investigation from the Swedish Enforcement Authority (Kronofogdemyndigheten).
The Stora Enso forest company applied for the berry pickers to be removed as early as last week, but they are also waiting to see what will happen next.
“We are planning to have a meeting at the Tierp municipality tomorrow with representatives from the local authority as well as the police. The aim is to discuss how to move forward from here. There are so many involved now and one mostly feels sorry for these people. For their own good it is vital that we deal with this swiftly,” said Lars Berglund of Stora Enso to TT.