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From British daily The Independent:
Fruit pickers: ‘The money we earn is not worth getting out of bed for’
They were promised a decent living, but the reality has been very different. Jerome Taylor meets the migrant labourers who feel betrayed by one of Britain’s largest fruit suppliers
By Jerome Taylor
Friday, 10 July 2009
Two months ago, Ivan Borisov left his job as a tour operator in Bulgaria where he spent his summer guiding tourists around his country’s Black Sea beach resorts and headed for the rolling Herefordshire countryside.
Despite having a steady job and knowing five languages, like thousands of seasonal labourers from eastern Europe who come to Britain every year, Mr Borisov believed the hours he would work on fruit farms this summer would make him enough money to justify spending six months away from his wife, Mira, and their newborn baby.
But earlier this week, the 27-year-old sat in a Tudor-style pub on the outskirts of the market town of Leominster, staring at the £7.62 that was supposed to last him until his next pay cheque, which was four days away.
“The money we earn is not even worth getting out of bed for,” he said, picking at his soil-laden nails. “It is impossible to save so I can’t send any money home to my wife. When I speak to her I tell her everything is OK because I don’t want to upset her.”
In Bulgaria, friends had assured Mr Borisov that a summer in Britain would make him thousands of pounds – far more than he could ever hope to make in his home town of Varna.
The work would be hard, he was told, but he could expect an eight-hour day, five days a week. Instead he is lucky if he brings in any more than £45 at the end of each week for 18 hours’ work – the equivalent of £2.50 an hour.
“I feel like a slave,” he says. “I want to go back to Bulgaria but where will I find the money to pay for the flight?”
The reason he has so little to spare is that the company he works for, S&A Produce, one of Britain’s largest fruit growers and supplier to supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, rarely gives him any more than four days’ work a week and little more than four hours a day. It also deducts about half his weekly earnings to pay for obligatory charges including accommodation in a portable building with three others, internet access which rarely works and a one-off £35 payment for “welfare” and transport services.
Paid the minimum wage of £5.74 an hour, the work Mr Borisov does is exactly the sort of poorly paid, back-breaking labour that the British have long preferred to hand over to eastern European migrants, 21,000 of whom entered the UK this year under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, which allows them to work on a specific farm for six months.
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