January 25, 2013
At an employement agency in southeastern Poland, notices offer a variety of job opportunities abroad. One particular post advertising agricultural work in Germany looks, at first glance, to be a good offer. The reality is very different.
To be able to send people to work abroad, Polish employement agencies need to be signed into a Provincial Job Center register. Thousands of workers every year go through such agencies to places like Germany, France, U.S., Belgium and Sweden. By law, if something goes wrong, an employee has the right to file a complaint to this Job Center, though that rarely happens. This is the story of one such complaint.
This job, like all physical labor, is hard. But the employees were aware of that before signing up. The problem here is that nobody from the employment agency back in Poland said what the living conditions would be like.
The Polish workers live in containers made of sheet tin without a toilet and running water. Inside of the cramped space, there are two bunk beds. To take a shower, people have to walk to another building located far from the containers. There are no shower curtains so everyone takes a shower together. Embarrasing for some, all simply had to get used to it since there was no other choice. Then there was the cold inside the containers, filled with holes in the tin “walls.”
Furthermore, the employees are not called by their names but with numbers like in concentration camps. This kind of treatment is certainly inhumane.
According to the report, when the employees first traveled to Germany and arrived at the work site at 6 a.m., they were greeted by a very tense atmosphere from those overseeing the job. They had to wait outside for four hours before someone came to pick them up. The drivers, who were Turkish, then started the selection, pointing out who was going to work on the factory floor and who were the “lucky” ones to work in the field. They took all the people’s identification cards, and gave them back only just before they left to return to Poland.
Working conditions were terrible. The employees worked for more than 12 hours a day with one short break in the middle. They were told to work faster and faster. Being late or having a day off was banned. Whoever was indeed lucky to be working on the factory floor was continuously threatened to be sent to work in the field if they didn't work harder. The Turkish foremen cursed at the workers, called them idiots, tossed carrots at them, and tugged at their sleeves. If their employers were not pleased, they refused to pay. The hourly salary was 4.50 euros, but chopping leeks was paid in volume - one euro per box. The stress was enormous.
The Polish agency responsible for sending workers to this German site has since changed its name, but is still sending people to work. When contacted by a reporter posing as a job applicant seeking work in Germany, the agency said it was impossible because there were currently too many job applications. Moreover, the Polish workers no longer work in the factory, but only in the field. The Provincial Job Center verified this employment agency and the German work site, but for now has not found grounds to punish them.
Gazeta Wyborcza ("Election Gazette") is a leading daily newspaper in Poland, and the country's most popular news portal. Founded in 1989 by Adam Michnik and based in Warsaw, the paper is now owned by Agora SA, and is described as center-left.