Knoblauchsland or the Garlic Land: an important vegetable area near Nürnberg cannot live without seasonal workers during the time of harvest. 24 of these are Romanian. Four of them took courage after their contract finished and demanded their rights, which have been overlooked by their employer. They did not resort to a public scandal this time, but appealed to the rightful German authorities. The Germen border staff looked and found tat, beside getting a "hunger's salary" for long days of hard work, the Romanians were also subject to miserable housing conditions, limited hot water and guarantees for work shoes and fridge.
Taking the cab to the border
"It is often that employees, underpaid and misled money-wise, request the help of illegal labour financial control authorities (Finanzcontrolle Schwarzarbeit, a German border agency service), Nürnberg borders press spokeswoman Martina Stumpf told HotNews.ro.
This has been the case of the four Romanians who, after seeing their salary falling short of the promises after a season of harvesting, did not resort to the scandal press or to righting a wrong themselves, but took a can on July 15 and used the cab driver as interpreter for the border agency.
The Romanians complained about the lousy payment they got - about 3.60 euros per hour, despite an initially 5 euros/hour agreement. They also showed they have not been paid for all the hours they have worked. Plus, they said part of their income had bee retained and the buyers would refuse some of the vegetables if they worked slower, claiming an unsuitable product quality.
Misery in the dorms
The owner of the farm stated that the agreement saw a unique payment for 30 working hours a week. But he could not prove the number of hours the workers have done. But the workers took out notes indicated their working schedule. The women in particular seemed to be scared of the farm's owner, but they did show the border staff their notes in the end. One of the workers had 189 more working hours to be paid for, which amounts to about 1,000 euros.
Nürnberg prosecutors issued a mandate and the border agency continued to investigate the farm and the housing of the seasonal workers. They discovered miserable conditions. "The workers slept in two-levelled dorms, two persons sharing one bed or a mattress and hot water was frequently absent. There was a 25 euros tax for using the fridge and the workers had to pay a deposit for the shoes they used during work", Martina Stumpf said.
Following the investigation, the border submitted a complaint against the German employer to the Nürnberg prosecutors, for "founded suspicion of diminishing the contributions to the social insurances". For such crime, the German states either fines or convicts to five years in jail.
In the top of foreign seasonal workers
If the accusations prove to have a ground, there's another German farmer bring shame to its industry. But "to suggest that the employers in Knoblauchsland do not comply with the legal request is very daring", says the manager of the Bavarian Farmers' Association, Helmut Wolf. "According to the income contract, the gross salary for seasonal workers is 6 euros per hour. After paying the social insurance and without calculating the income tax, the net salary is 4.80 euros/hour", he said for the Nürnberg press.
The Labour Federal Agency from Germany (Bundesagentur für Arbeit – BA) published at the end of June the figures for contracted seasonal workers in agriculture. This indicated a significant increase in the overseas workers: 234,000, with 9,700 more against the same month in 2008. The record holders are the Polish and the Romanians, but the number of Polish workers is declining, whereas the number of Romanian workers is booming.
According to BA data, 71,000 Romanians held a seasonal work permit in agriculture in Germany in 2009 so far, that is 14,700 more than in 2008. They second the Polish - 145,000 - whose number of seasonal workers dropped by 5.600.