Thai-workers in Sweden Work for Slave Wages

They borrowed several years of salary, and came to Sweden with the promise of hard work and good pay. But the blueberry harvest failed and now thousands of berry pickers are in the Swedish forests of Norrbotten – Indebted and without money for food. – Please help us, we want to go home, they say.

Mother of four, Sontayon Chridpol, 44, is one of the thousands of berry pickers who travelled from Thailand to Sweden in hopes of making money.
For 14 Swedish crowns per kg she picks blueberries from four in the morning until five in the evening seven days a week. And she had not complained if it weren’t for one problem – there are no blueberries.
– At home in Thailand they told me how you could pick up to 100 kg a day and how it would be a record year for blueberries. But now I am here in the Swedish jungle and there are hardly any berries just a bunch of mosquitoes, she says.
Thousands of poor workers from low wage countries, tempted with promises of good pay and berry filled forests, have been affected by the bad berry harvest. Most of them have borrowed 15.000 Swedish crowns for tickets and expenses at a high rate. As many as 6.000 berry pickers from Thailand have travelled to Sweden this year – a doubling of previous years even though there are fewer berries to pick.
Sontayon Chridpol, who works along side 277 other berry pickers for berry buyer Stefan Engström, pays 50 dollars every day just to sleep on the floor of the schoolroom in the village Aapua. – Obviously I want to go home, but I have no choice. I have to repay my debt, she says.
In another schoolroom a few miles from Aapua in the village Pello workers have already given up. – We are on strike, there are no berries, and now we want to go home, says Yuytrisong Khwansri, 26, from Bangkok.
She left her job as a golf caddy to make money in Sweden. She had hoped to earn 40.000 Swedish crowns, but in a month she only earned 3.600 crowns. Not even a fraction of the travel expenses. Her passport has Stefan Engström’s employees taken. – When we landed, they said that we should give them the pass and that we would get it back when we went home. They took it so we wouldn’t lose it, says Yuytrisong Khwansri.
But Stefan Engström himself admits that in reality it was to check if the berry pickers would leave. But they would get them back, he said.
After much pressure from the strikers in Pello, Stefan has promised to organize a bus that can take them to the embassy in Stockholm. But because he isn’t ready to pay the costs and the pickers have no money there has been a lot of speculations whether there will be a bus or not.
– If we can just go to the embassy, we’ll get help to go home, we can not stay here. For every day that passes our debts grow larger, says Yuytrisong Khwansri.

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