Sunday, 20 August 2017
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strawberryIllegal immigrants from Nepal, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistani and Vietnam are working illegally in the Alentejo to fill the increasing demand from agricultural companies for cheap labour.

It is estimated than in the Alentejo town of São Teotónio, near Odemira, its 6,500 inhabitants include over 4,000 illegal immigrants with tens of thousands across the region working without the necessary documentation.

These immigrants often work well over ten hours a day, on weekends and holidays, receiving "starvation wages of between €3 and €3.40 per hour, if they are lucky," says Mahendra Sapkota, a Nepalese worker.

"Someone has to do this work," explains Tânia Guerreiro, a social worker from the NGO Taipa de Odemira, who helps Asians in São Teotónio.

Some companies legally hire workers but most of the Asians in the Alentejo have entered the country illegally, many are victims of trafficking networks. The "criminals", according to a GNR spokesman, "are Eastern Europeans and Indians."

Rita Penedo, director of the Portuguese Observatory on Trafficking in Persons, says it is hard to prove people trafficking in agriculture which, he says, is a recent phenomenon and it is very difficult to obtain evidence.

According to social worker Tânia Guerreiro, Asian workers in the Alentejo often live in subhuman conditions, crammed into containers or in poorly maintained housing, often without electricity and running water.

Most Asians in the Alentejo do not have papers. Guerreiro says, "the new government of Portugal has made the legalisation of workers virtually impossible. But the reality is that there are more and more because the agricultural industry in the Alentejo is expanding into international markets."

Portugal needs foreign exchange through agricultural exports to EU countries such as the UK and Germany. Without cheap labour from Asia, for many growers it seems impossible to operate profitably. This is the vicious circle, with the authorities turning a blind eye to illegal immigration and the subsequent abuse of workers due to a lust for export performance from the agricultural sector.

Tânia Guerreiro commented that for “as long as the exporting agricultural companies need workers and neither the Portuguese nor other EU workers are willing to do this hard work for the minimum wage of €500, the influx of Asians will not stop, "Asians are slaves for the sake of Portuguese economic growth."

The problem is not only in the Alentejo with the recent boom in grant-funded agriculture in the Algarve fuelling a neeed for low-wage jobs, especially in red fruit farming and citrus production, both of which claim to need cheap labour to show a profit.

The authorities remain overstretched and semingly unconcerned with immigrants allowed to work and live in poor conditions despite everyone locally knowing which farms the illegal labour is working on.

Well publicised busts in the Algarve which nab and expel illegal foreign labour take place at seafront bars, cafes and restaurants with farmers and agricultural businesses left alone to continue their abuse in the name of profit.

The government is complicit in this area, in a similar way that it allows the unlicensed rental of accommodation to tourists despite having a set of rules and regulation which few property owners bother to adhere to - the benefit to the economy outweights the disbenefit of ensuring everyone involved follows the law.

It it likely that those famers and companies operating legally, with the additional costs involved, are those more likely to go bust, leaving the field open for illegally operated farms to turn a tidy profit. It is pointless in any society to have laws which are ignored with impunity but if there is no political will to eradicate the use of illegal labour, it will continue to thrive.

Comments  

0 #7 Christian 2017-03-20 07:03
Quoting JoeBlow:
Quoting Christian:
It's so easy to blame the immigrants, who leave their homes out of desperation and are prepared to sacrifice so much just in order to earn very little for long days of hard labour.

I do not find that Ed blames the immigrants, but he does say that most know what they are getting themselves in to. There should at least be legal protection for these workers - maybe just forget the miniumum wage then supply and demand takes over. If someone wants to work for 2 euros an hour, why should the State and the EU make this illegal - plenty of grey economy workers work for low wages with the State getting no revenue in return - except the VAT on resulting purchases.

I was referring to Peter F's comment, not Ed's article.
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-1 #6 JoeBlow 2017-03-19 10:08
Quoting Christian:
It's so easy to blame the immigrants, who leave their homes out of desperation and are prepared to sacrifice so much just in order to earn very little for long days of hard labour.

I do not find that Ed blames the immigrants, but he does say that most know what they are getting themselves in to. There should at least be legal protection for these workers - maybe just forget the miniumum wage then supply and demand takes over. If someone wants to work for 2 euros an hour, why should the State and the EU make this illegal - plenty of grey economy workers work for low wages with the State getting no revenue in return - except the VAT on resulting purchases.
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+2 #5 Christian 2017-03-19 08:54
It's so easy to blame the immigrants, who leave their homes out of desperation and are prepared to sacrifice so much just in order to earn very little for long days of hard labour. There are others, and more powerful, people and institutions in this chain of food production, right at the top of which I would put the supermarkets who always seek to source their produce as cheaply as possible in the south and then ship it up north where up to half of it is eventually thrown away.
And if we were to erase the term 'expats' from our vocabulary, perhaps we'd find it easier to sympathise with those workers as we'd realise that, as foreigners, we too are immigrants, and our 'legal' status is just due to the fact that we had the luck to be born in Europe.
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+2 #4 CHARLY 2017-03-18 19:29
What a rediculous situation this is: the only LOOSER in this matter is of course the State because no soc. sec, no vat, no taxes, no IRS is paid ! The only one that closes its eyes is also .... the State. Capito ????
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-1 #3 algarveandroid 2017-03-18 14:17
the other side of the coin not mentioned is that instead the wages would be used to pay banks for industrial machinery to replace said labour , moving wealth back again on to the banks.

And in the UK with its brexit , will this be the new immigration of seasonal farm workers as the new norm - or more banking credit and removing the worker further.
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-1 #2 PeterF 2017-03-18 11:32
Ed lays out both sides of this tricky argument.

Cheap production costs mean a better export performance. But if Portugal's labour laws are not being applied or policed, then they should be replaced with something workable.

Also, there is blame on the part of the immigrants who knowingly are flouting the law while putting up with the low income, which, as liveaboard points out, is significantly more than they could ever earn back in Nepal etc
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+4 #1 liveaboard 2017-03-18 08:19
You can see them doing their shopping at the intermarche in Sao Teotonio. Indians, Nepalese, and others.

I met a couple of well spoken fellows from Punjab working in the potato fields farther south while I was walking my dog. They offered to share their breakfast.

In India a person would be lucky to get 4 euros for working all day. In Nepal things are really desperate. One person working here at the wages Europeans refuse can support a family back home, get education for their children, and / or build a small stake of capital that will enable them to start a business. Yes, they have to live rough in order to do that.

I know a man who stacked shelves in the UK; he returned home and opened a small shop in a rented building. 20 years later, he owns 2 supermarkets and a shopping mall.

On the other hand, it is not legal to pay such low wages here, and if a business is only viable by doing so then it can be argued that it is not a viable business. No taxes, no health cover, no worker safety checks, no accident insurance.
As the workers are [presumably] not legal, there is no easy way to check whether they are free or indentured without starting a process that will lead to their arrest and deportation.

I like those guys, I wouldn't do that.
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