Trade unionists accuse a cucumber farm of not paying Romanian harvest workers the minimum wage. He had withheld identification cards.
Suspected no minimum wage, no safety distances: cordoned-off farm in Mamming Photo: Armin Weigel/dpa
Advisors of the German Trade Union Federation for Eastern European Workers raise serious accusations against the Bavarian vegetable farm where 250 harvest workers were infected with Corona. The large-scale company Gemusebau Wagner in Mamming, with about 500 seasonal workers mainly from Romania, paid less than the legal minimum wage, withheld the workers’ identity cards and housed the people without a Corona safety distance, the DGB project "Fair Mobility" told the taz. It refers to two visits on site, statements and self-written time sheets of about 30 workers as well as accounts of the company. A part is present to the taz. The farm is currently one of the largest corona infestations in Germany.
"I found serious violations of the minimum wage law," consultant Sevghin Mayr told the taz. "Workers sometimes received only 6 euros per hour instead of the prescribed 9.35 euros." One received 772 euros according to his pay slip, but had worked 133 hours, according to his own statement. This corresponds to an hourly wage of 5.80 euros, from which the employer still deducted a part for accommodation and "miscellaneous (cigarettes …)" as well as the final cleaning. Thus, according to the document, the employee’s income was reduced to 472 euros. In addition, according to Mayr, workers had to pay 200 to 300 euros to an intermediary.
"People were also particularly upset because the company often took their ID cards from them when they arrived and didn’t give them back until they left, despite repeated requests," the counselor added. "There, of course, they are forced to accept everything so that they can get back the ID card, without which they cannot return to their home country." The ID card, she said, was returned by a mediator only if the mediation fee was paid in cash.
"No employment contract or other documents were handed over to document the employment relationship," Mayr criticized. "However, the workers had to sign documents that they did not understand and were not allowed to keep or photograph. This is pure exploitation."
Infection control rules violated?
"The Corona distance rules have also not been observed," the consultant said. She sent the taz a photo that is supposed to be from one of the accommodations. It shows a cramped room with four occupied beds. The corridor between two beds is as narrow as a person, far less than the required 1.50 meter safety distance.
Workers have their badges taken away so they don’t leave
However, compliance with the safety distances is part of the occupational health and safety rules that the federal government has made a condition for the employment of foreign seasonal workers. According to its own information, the Dingolfing-Landau district office also assumes that the company has violated the hygiene concept.
In the meantime, Mayr has filed a criminal complaint with the Landshut public prosecutor’s office for, among other things, the alleged withholding of the ID cards. According to the authorities, they are currently examining whether they will start an investigation. The consultant said she also informed customs about the low wages.
The farmer faces another charge of insult. "When we were back on site on Tuesday, Mr. Wagner insulted and abused us," Mayr said. That Wagner became abusive, confirmed the taz Andreas Baumgartner, deputy head of the police inspection Dingolfing: "There was a statement that can be considered an insult," said the police officer. However, he had no findings as to whether the identity cards had been retained against the will of the workers and whether the minimum wage had not been paid. After all, "no worker has contacted us."
"The people have received the minimum wage. I can deduct the advance," farmer Alois Wagner told the taz. He had collected the ID cards for official registration and handed them out again on request. He did not insult the consultants. "I don’t understand the world anymore." Wagner would not say whether corona rules were followed.
Locked up on a crane
Alois Keller, who is responsible for the company at the Industriegewerkschaft Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt (IG BAU), was also on site. "The fact that employees have their ID cards taken away is something we have in several industries, including the main construction trade or even in agriculture. The employers do that so that people stay there and don’t leave if they are dissatisfied," Keller told the taz. A policeman who was on duty at the farm, however, had made it clear that he was "quite indifferent" to this accusation, as the unionist puts it. It is also "very often" paid less than the minimum wage. "But it’s very difficult to prove. On paper, everything usually fits. There is never an official time record."
To fight back against exploitation, workers have few options. "The ones who reach the most are those who work in construction, for example, and get trapped on a crane." About less vehemently presented complaints, he says, "Most of the time it comes to nothing, also because people are then back in their home country when legal proceedings could begin. People’s dependence is just shamelessly exploited."
In the meantime, three infected harvest workers of the vegetable farm had to be treated in hospital. On Thursday, there was still one person, the Dingolfing district office told taz. The first cases were diagnosed at the end of July.
Although, according to the Federal Statistical Office, in 20,000 of the total 940,000 workers in German agriculture were employed seasonally – up to 6 months. But "special crops" such as asparagus are largely harvested by foreign seasonal workers who are willing to do these physically demanding jobs for the comparatively low wages. The Greens criticize that other vegetable farms in this country, which employ their workers on a permanent basis and subject to social insurance contributions, have to compete against these farms.