Help urged for berry pickers
Academics have urged the Labour Ministry to better protect Thai workers who are going into debt believing job placement agencies' promises they will be paid handsomely as wild berry pickers in Sweden and Finland.
- Published: 26/04/2012 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
As the picking season, which lasts between July and September, is approaching, labour officials should start thinking about how many workers should be allowed to work in Scandinavia and whether their job placement agencies observe requirements set by the ministry, said Saman Laodamrongchai of the Asian Research Centre for Migration at Chulalongkorn University.
He worried that job applicants, mostly upcountry villagers, would fail to gather enough berries to cover their expenses, particularly the "service fee" charged by Thai employment agencies _ reportedly in excess of 75,000 baht a person.
In 2009, up to 5,900 hopeful workers travelled to Sweden.
They imagined earning high incomes like the berry pickers they saw in the promotional videos screened by the employment agencies.
Instead, many of them ended up in hardship due to low numbers of wild berries, competition with pickers from other nations and the need to pay for daily living and travel costs themselves.
"These agencies persuade them to go there in great numbers. They fail to realise that workers take on risk as they have to compete with others to pick the fruits," said lawyer Siriwan Wongkiatphaisan.
According to the Employment Department, companies wanting to take people to work abroad are required to pay the workers a wage of 8,000 baht a month and a daily allowance of 500 baht as well as provide them with shelter and food.
Section 49 of the 1994 Employment Agencies and Job Seeker Protection Act also requires employers to pay for travel expenses while their workers live in a foreign country.
But, according to a source, some companies try to avoid such responsibilities.
They even make another contract with the workers that bars them from taking legal action against them if they encounter problems at work.
"These companies are not employers who have to take care of workers. They are job placement agencies only eyeing the [service] fee," said the source.
Pramuan Prasert, a 50-year-old from Ubon Ratchathani's Muang Samsip district and a former berry picker, lodged a complaint against a job placement agency, accusing it of unfair treatment.
He filed a lawsuit against the job recruitment firm with the Labour Court after he had to pay daily expenses himself while struggling to find an adequate amount of wild berries in Sweden during the summer of 2009.
After a protracted legal battle, the company recently negotiated a settlement with him by agreeing not to seize the two rai of land he had put up as a guarantee for the 75,000 service fee.
The bad experience contrasts with what Mr Pramuan had dreamed of after he watched the agency's presentation on berry picking with thousands of other villagers in Chaiyaphum. The video promised a handsome income, which he never reaped.
The fervour for berry picking work is expected to ignite again soon, with many villagers in Chaiyaphum, Phetchabun and Udon Thani _ where berry picking abroad has become popular _ leaving for Scandinavia in search of good wages, said Mr Saman of the Asian Research Centre for Migration.
But the Labour Ministry continues to sit on its hands, he said. It needs to carefully set a quota on the number of workers allowed to pick berries as well as more seriously enforce laws on job placement companies.
About the author
- Writer: Penchan Charoensuthipan
- Position: Reporter