Strawberry Farm Scandal in Bavaria Illegal Romanian Workers Paid Slave Wages by Policeman

Hunger, heat, and 13 hours back-breaking work a day: all for €1 an hour. Customs officials raided a strawberry plantation in Bavaria on Thursday and found illegal Romanian workers living in slave-like conditions. What was worse: the owner of the farm is a policeman.


Customs officers searched a Bavarian strawberry plantation on Thursday and found Romanian illegal workers living in squalid conditions.
DPA

Customs officers searched a Bavarian strawberry plantation on Thursday and found Romanian illegal workers living in squalid conditions.

German custom authorities raided a strawberry plantation in the village of Oberndorf in southern Germany at midnight Thursday night and discovered up to 60 Romanian farm laborers living in miserable conditions. The owner of the farm had been keeping the workers as virtual slaves and only paying them around €1 ($1.33) an hour, for up to 13 hours of work a day in the fields.

The farm owner is reported to be a police officer, although he has been on extended leave since 2003. Customs officers are now looking for the man, who had already been fined for hiring illegal labor in August 2006.

In the current case he is under suspicion of "human trafficking for the purpose of exploiting workers," a spokesperson for the Augsburg Prosecutors Office told reporters on Friday.

The 60 Romanian workers the investigators found were housed in overheated containers, and around 50 other Romanians are reported to have already left the farm.

The containers are thought to have been obtained from an asylum-seekers camp. Four workers were housed in a tiny space of only nine square meters. Officials said there was no functioning garbage system in the camp and not enough toilets. The men were not provided with water or food, and money was withheld from their wages to pay for their squalid accommodations.

The officials were alerted by locals in the village of Oberndorf, after the workers had gone begging for food in the area. The customs office in Augsburg said that the strawberry pickers had been paid an average wage of between €1 and €1.20 an hour, based on how many strawberries they had picked.

A spokesman for the customs office said: "You have to imagine how it went. They were only sent onto the fields after the Polish farm laborers had already started picking." That meant that the men had only been able to pick a few strawberries, during their 13 hours of work a day.

smd/ap/ddp

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