Thai berry pickers in Sweden seek help from House Labour Affairs Committee

A group of Thai berry pickers lodged a complaint today (Wednesday) with the House Labour Affairs Committee, seeking an investigation of the Employment Service Department and the company which hired them to pick wild berries in Sweden, claiming that they were cheated by their employer.

The workers said they applied for jobs in Sweden in July, at the Khon Kaen provincial hall. A training program was provided and employment contracts were eventually signed at the hall, with uniformed officials, who claimed to be from the Labour Ministry, supervising the employment service activities.

They claim that they were promised a minimum pay of 23,183 Swedish krona, or about 81,000 baht, for working from July 13th to September 28th.

They claim, however, that they have not received any pay from the company after their return home, adding that some of them had worked overtime and those who fell sick had not been taken care of as promised.

The workers also claim that they had filed complaints with the Thai Embassy in Sweden, but there has been no progress in the case.

Each year, about 5,000 Thais travel to Sweden to pick wild berries, lured by high pay promised by their Thai employers, but many find that the promises are often broken. Many, who dreamed of making a good income for a few months’ work in Sweden, took out loans to pay for their travel but returned home empty-handed and, worse, in debt.

On average, a berry picker pays out around US$4,000 to work in Sweden for 70 days. This means that, for the average worker, it takes 1.6 months to earn enough to cover these costs, with only a limited time remaining to earn enough money to bring home.

About 50% of the costs incurred are paid to Thai employment agencies and the other half is paid to Swedish berry companies for accommodation, food and access to a car. After the deduction of all costs, an average Thai picker returns home with around US$2,000 from one season in Sweden, according to a study of Thai berry pickers published by the Migration Studies Delegation.

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