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April 2008, Volume 14, Number 2

Spain: Strawberries, Migrants

About 90 percent of Spain's strawberries are grown in the southwestern province of Huelva. Strawberry production began in Huelva in the early 1980s, but expanded after Spain joined the EU in 1986; there were about 20,000 acres producing 306,000 tons in 2000. Prices have been rising. Growers received over E1 a kg in 2006. Spain exported about 225,000 tons of strawberries in 2006, including a third to France. Production peaks in April-May.

Strawberries are very labor intensive, and some 55,000 workers were employed legally in 2000. Half were from Huelva province and 10 percent were guest workers (some of the local workers were legalized in Spain's legalization programs). Unauthorized workers went directly to fields seeking jobs or waited in town plazas for employersseeking workers on a day-to-day basis. Eventually, intermediaries developed to organize crews of workers seeking strawberry harvesting jobs.

The use of foreign guest workers in Spanish agriculture has increased, topping 30,000 in recent years, including 85 percent Romanians. Most guest workers are recruited by employer associations and arrive legally in Spain. Relatively few guest workers are brought from Latin America because transportation costs are too high for workers in seasonal agriculture.

Since January 1, 2007, Romanians can travel (but not work) throughout the EU, prompting some to seek higher-wage jobs in northern Europe and the UK and Ireland. The Cartaya mayor won an EU ARENEAS grant to recruit Moroccan berry pickers, but many switched to nonfarm jobs, resulting in a preference for married women with children. Farm organizations such as Freshuelva interviewed some of the almost 5,000 Moroccans who applied for jobs in 2006/07, and selected about two-thirds of them to come to Spain- the others were about equally divided into "reserve" and rejected pools.

The summer 2007 Spain-Senegal agreement anticipates the admission of 4,000 Senegalese guest workers, including 700 for Huelva strawberries, and involves Senegalese unions in the selection of guest workers. Spanish farm employer associations also recruit workers in Ukraine and Bulgaria without bilateral agreements.

Farmers seeking guest workers make their requests to provincial labor authorities in the fall, who send them to the Direcci¢n General de Inmigraci¢n (DGI) in Madrid. The DGI announces the contingente or quota by December for the following year. Agricultural guest workers receive seasonal (de temporada) permits for three-to-nine months that must be renewed outside Spain; there is no cap on the number available.

Most guest workers arrive without their families, and must stay with the employer who recruited them. After completing three seasonal work contracts, they can apply for a 12-month temporary (estable) permit, and after another 12 months can have their families join them in Spain. Employers can request workers by name, and most do; there is a 15-day probationary period. Legal workers are to be employed at least 18 days a month, and the work week is six 6.5 hour days, with a 30-minute lunch break and rest periods, for 39 hours a week.

Workers pick berries into eight box trays (each box is 2.5 kg), and most workers harvest 10 trays in a 6.5 hour day. Harvesters in 2007 were paid E5.42 ($8) an hour, E35 a day and E211 a week. There is supposed to be overtime pay after 39 hours a week, but some employers count on guest workers to volunteer for additional hours at regular wages. There are relatively few illegal workers, in part because employer organizations can obtain sufficient guest workers and because sanctions range from E6,000 to E60,000 for each illegal hire.

Wages and working conditions are regulated by contracts, but not all of them are translated into the workers' native language, and some guest workers are afraid to challenge employers for fear or losing their jobs or not being recalled next year. In most cases, supervisors (team masters) are of the same nationality as the pickers they supervise, and they allegedly take the employer's side to avoid being forced to return to picking.

Most recruitment of strawberry workers is done by the four employer organizations, Freshuelva, ASAJA, COAG, UPA-CORA. In recruitment countries, word of mouth usually generates desired applicants for jobs, in Poland "women between 18 and 48 years old, willing to take up physically demanding strawberry agriculture jobs for around E36 a day in the Spanish province of Huelva sometime between February and June."

Many of the Polish guest workers are from the industrial southwestern part of the country that has high unemployment rates, not the agricultural east. Those selected after five-minute interviews are expected to depart for Spain by bus within 72 hours. Some of the Polish women who have worked in Spain have married and settled, and some have managerial positions in the strawberry industry.

Employers are required to pay half of the inbound transportation and to provide free housing (they pay the entire transportation cost, and deduct half from worker earnings). Housing is not inspected prior to occupancy, and is checked only after there are complaints. Most housing is in or near the fields, which limits interactions between migrants and Spaniards.

Farmers say that, with the large investments required to produce strawberries, they cannot pay higher wages. There are experiments with hydroponic production of berries, which means planting them overhead in baskets or rain gutters so they can be harvested without stooping. The precise production controls in hydroponics can lead to higher grower revenues.

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