Sweden’s largest trade union group, LO, has slammed the government over the plight of foreign berry pickers in northern Sweden, many of whom claim that charges from employers for travel and lodgings are leaving them in debt.
Changes to immigration law mean that companies can hire in non-European workers if they deem it necessary. The new law replaces the previous system in which unions had a veto over the use of non-European workers.
“The government must accept its responsibility. They have written this law that has allowed companies to sign contracts without [union] scrutiny. Now the berry pickers are coming here and nobody is taking responsibility for them,” said LO chairwoman Wanja Lundby-Wedin.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Labour Market Minister Tobias Billström insist that the current rules should be sufficient protection for the berry pickers.
Following previous complaints from berry pickers, they have this year been given the right to a minimum wage. But the foreign employment agencies that hire them are allowed to deduct travel, lodging and food costs from their wages, a practice that pickers say often leaves them in debt.
The plight of the workers is now exercising members of the governing parties, with Christian Democrat MP Lennart Sacrédeus submitting a question to Billström asking him how he plans to improve conditions in the berry picking industry.
Wanja Lundby-Wedin insists that removing the unions’ role has contributed to the problem:
“They have clearly been tempted here on false premises and it’s a big problem that the unions’ influence has been entirely done away with. I think the berry companies should take their responsibility and ensure that these berry pickers are given help to get home,” she said.