Berry Pickers: Agents Blacklist 200 Critical Workers

Job placement agents authorised to send workers to Sweden to pick wild berries have blacklisted about 200 people who complained last year about “unfair” work contracts.
About 200 workers who have filed lawsuits against job placement companies which send people to Sweden to work as berry pickers over ‘‘unfair’’ work contracts, has been blacklisted by the firms. The complaints are being investigated by the Department of Special Investigation and pending action by the Labour Court, writes Bangkok Post.

The complaints concern three companies: Siam Royal Service Group Co, Sin Sunshine Co and TS Law & Business Co.

A staff member from one of the three confirmed that the companies had agreed not to recruit any of the workers that had brought the action against them.

The companies are worried the workers might damage the companies’ reputation, said the source who requested anonymity.

However, one of the workers who took legal action against the three job placement firms said they only wanted to have their problems brought out in the open.

The worker said pickers were charged a lot of money to secure their jobs and had to shoulder high living costs while in Sweden.

The workers’ move had been lauded by the Swedish authorities as a brave act to reveal “the inconvenient truth” of Thai workers who were taken advantage of, said a worker who declined to be named.

Official figures show the number of Thai workers travelling to Sweden for berry picking jobs last year doubled over 2008 to 3,500.

Some workers are still struggling to repay about 4,000 baht every month since he returned from Sweden last year. They had borrowed up to 200,000 baht for the trip.

The average travel cost for each berry picking trip – including visa fees and other related expenses – is about 100,000 baht a person.

Last year’s dispute between the Thai berry pickers and their employers has prompted the Swedish government and related agencies to come up with measures aimed at protecting berry picking workers from unfair working conditions.

Thai job placement agents authorised to hire Thai berry pickers to work in Sweden will be required in the coming harvesting season to adopt a minimum wage insurance regulation. The companies will have to take responsibility for ensuring hired workers can earn at least 70,000 baht a month, otherwise they will have to pay them compensation.

The minimum wage insurance will cover a period of three months but if the workers fail to pick enough berries, they will not be eligible to receive the compensation.

It is also required to be stated clearly in a work contract that berry pickers will be responsible for their own living costs while working in Sweden.

The Thai work contracts will be subjected to thorough checks by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.

The berry-picking work contracts must be submitted for verification by the confederation before workers can apply for a visa with the Swedish embassy in Bangkok, said Suphat Kukhun, deputy director-general of the Department of Employment.

If workers pick more berries than they are required, employers will have to pay them extra based on the market price of the fruit.


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