Summer Berry Pickers Get Living Wage
Last year, hundreds of foreign berry pickers left Sweden up to their ears in debt. This country’s Northern forests just didn’t have enough blueberries to go around, and many of the circa 6,000 pickers from countries like Thailand and Vietnam were forced to cut short their trips and return to their homes empty-handed. Many of them had loaned thousands of dollars to travel to Sweden, some even pawning their farmland for the chance.
They had been promised a daily quota of between 60 and 120 kilos of berries, but most could only manage 10 to 30 kilos per day, which barely covered the cost of room and board. They had no base wage—if they only picked 10 kilos, they only got paid for those 10 kilos, no matter how many hours it took.
Many of the berry pickers felt cheated and staged strikes and demonstrations to alert the public about what they saw as their employers’ greed. Confronted with the complaints, one recruitment agency representative replied that the pickers would “have to work harder.”
But now they will enjoy a minimum wage after all. Before, the pickers had received their work permits through recruitment agencies in Vietnam and Thailand that enjoyed special contracts with the Swedish government. These agreements kept this country’s strong union movement from interfering with compensation, leaving the pickers at the mercy of the unreliable per-kilo wages.
Those days are over now, though. Now all foreign berry pickers will be treated like any other citizen from outside the EU who holds a Swedish work permit, meaning that collective agreements will apply. These pickers will receive a minimum wage of more than 2,000 US dollars per month if they’re employed by a Swedish-based company, and even more if their employer is based outside the country.
They will also have a right to compensation for working overtime and odd hours.
But with the memory from last year’s disappointment still fresh, it’s unclear how many foreign workers will actually show up to pick the berries that many Swedes consider essential to their summer diet.