Poland's Seasonal Workers Face Grim Conditions In Germany

The Polish-German border
The Polish-German border
Anna Gmiterek-Zabłocka
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.
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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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