Harvest workers forced to live in slave-like conditions in Austria

The law regulates harvest work but many seasonal workers are exempt from it as they have never signed a contract of employment. How does modern slavery in the so-called “first world” look like?

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Harvest workers forced to live in slave-like conditions in Austria - NewsMavens
Field work. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

“Heads down, do not look left or right when you weed" -- hearing such commands from a supervisor was routine for female workers in Austria. Just like working from early morning until 9 pm, low wages and lamentable accommodation. A worker, who prefers to remain anonymous, has made grave allegations against her employer, a farmer from Lower Austria. "I felt like a slave," she told Katrin Burgstaller from Der Standard.

Burgstaller’s piece sheds light on a subject that is invisible to us most of the time -- modern slavery in the so-called “first world”. The women she described  work in catering and cleaning companies or as harvest workers, and are entangled in semi-legal dependency relationships. The majority of the seasonal workers come from Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. To most of us, they are only anonymous figures and dry statistics.

“They are often robbed of a lot of money, which is commercial fraud," claims René Schindler, a lawyer at a production union.

The law regulates the field of harvest work but many seasonal workers are exempt from it as they have never signed an employment contract. Hence, legislation concerning overtime and the minimal wage does not apply in their case.

This multimedia feature by Der Standard reveals the desolate condition of the premises, and gives a face to well-known yet ignored statistics.

Details from the story:

  • An anonymous harvest worker raises serious allegations against her employer, on the ground of extensive working hours, low salary and poor quality accommodation.
  • Most of the seasonal workers in Austria come from Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.
  • Although the  law regulates the working conditions and wages of the seasonal workers, many have not signed an employment contract. Hence, overtime is not compensated and the hourly wage is often due to an agreement.
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