Women's Link is representing four female migrant workers who suffered labour exploitation and sexual harassment while harvesting strawberries in SpainThe international human rights organization states that the business model of the strawberry industry in Spain seeks to obtain the maximum financial benefit, regardless of the rights of women migrant workers
Women’s Link emphasizes that companies and the Spanish State must accept the responsibility for this situation, in order to ensure that the human rights of female seasonal workers take priority over any economic or business interests
Spain, March 10, 2019 - The international human rights organization Women's Link Worldwide is currently representing four Moroccan women who were hired to work as seasonal strawberry pickers in Huelva, Spain, in 2018.
The women were selected and hired in Morocco by Spanish companies. During the selection process, they were told that they would be offered continuous employment for 3 months with a trial period of 15 days and that the company would provide housing near the farms for all workers at no extra cost, as stipulated in the collective agreement relating to agricultural workers in Huelva.
However, Women’s Link states that when their clients arrived in Spain, the conditions which were in place were very different from those which were promised. The seasonal workers were expected to sign an employment contract in Spanish, without being offered the benefit of a translator. Within this contract, it stated that their trial period was to last for one month, not 15 days as they had previously been informed. The contract also did not state that their employment would last 3 months as promised; instead, it was limited to the time it would take to harvest the strawberries. They were expected to work longer hours and were paid less per hour than they were previously informed, and in addition, the cost of their accommodation, as well as bills for water, electricity and gas, were deducted from their wage.
Women’s Link states that, during their employment, their clients were forced to work under exploitative conditions, facing excessive penalties if they failed to achieve high production targets set by the companies and being obliged to complete unpaid overtime. The workers also highlighted the lack of access to healthcare facilities. These conditions were discriminatory, in that workers of other nationalities were not subject to these conditions.
"It is undoubtedly positive that there is a system in place which allows Moroccan women to come to work in Spain within a legal framework. However, this system must not violate the worker’s rights or be allowed to create false expectations in the minds of migrant workers. It is the responsibility of the companies and the Spanish State to ensure that the rights of seasonal migrant workers are respected and that their rights take priority over a company’s economic or business interests," explains Aintzane Márquez, lawyer of Women's Link Worldwide.
“We had a very bad time. We had to ask for loans in Morocco and we had to sell our things just so that we could get a passport and pay for the visa so we could come here to work in Spain. When we arrived, we found that there was very little work. We haven’t even been able to recover the money we lost in Morocco,” explained one of the seasonal workers.
In addition to the labour exploitation, Women’s Link Worldwide highlights that the workers they represent also suffered sexual harassment from a field manager, who made repeated and persistent suggestions to them of a sexual nature. Shortly after suffering this abuse, the women were fired; long before the date on which they had been informed that their contract would terminate when they were in Morocco.
"It is vital apply a gender perspective when analysing the impact that this business model has on the lives of temporary workers. Denied stable employment and forced to live in temporary accommodation on isolated farms, not only do female seasonal workers face suffering labour exploitation, they also run the risk of suffering other types of violence, particularly sexual violence, and it is very difficult for them to report this abuse for fear that they will suffer reprisals and, because of this, lose their job," concludes Márquez.
“If one woman suffers harassment or violence, then they should report it. I don’t want any of the other women to suffer in the same way that we have,” concluded another of the seasonal workers.
The four female seasonal workers reported the sexual harassment they suffered at the hands of the field manager. In this, they were assisted by the organizations Asnuci and Mujeres 24 h. They also filed complaints before the employment tribunal and the labour inspector relating to the exploitative working conditions they were forced to endure. Women's Link has assumed legal representation in all procedures. The criminal proceedings against the field manager are currently under investigation awaiting trial by the Court of Moguer.
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