Friday, April 09, 2010

"Modern Day Slavery" UK 2010


I am amazed that this completely illegal and despicable behaviour by a British company towards migrant workers has not been more widely reported. Or perhaps not - since reporting about employers, who ignore the minimum wage, discriminate against foreign workers and want to get rid of employment rights could be seen as unfairly promoting Conservative Party economic policies?

Check out the EHRC press release here

"Polish students awarded £25,000 in discrimination and unfair dismissal case 06.04.10

Two Polish workers have been awarded a total of £25,000 in an employment tribunal case against a Perthshire fruit picking company. The tribunal found against David Leslie Fruits on the grounds of race discrimination, dismissal for asserting a statutory right and unlawful deductions from wages. Central Scotland Racial Equality Council (CSREC) were able to provide the successful claimants with legal representation using legal grant funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Commission fund CSREC to provide advice and representation relating to discrimination.

Polish students Michal Obieglo and Tomasz Kowal lived on-site at David Leslie's Scones Lethendy farm last summer. During the hearing, the Tribunal heard evidence about the horrendous conditions the students were housed in during their time at the farm, sleeping in a converted metal container with no running water, and sharing twelve showers between almost 200 people. Additionally, there were discrepancies relating to rates of pay, underpayment of wages, incorrect payslips and incorrect deduction of tax.

When Mr Obieglo and Mr Kowal approached David Leslie on behalf of their colleagues with their concerns, they were threatened with dismissal and given a written warning. Mr Obieglo and Mr Kowal contacted the Citizen's Advice Bureau in Perth and continued to raise their concerns with their co- workers. They presented a petition to David Leslie with 145 signatories on it and were dismissed that day, allegedly for stealing fruit.

This accusation was without foundation and prompted a general strike. David Leslie then gave a personal pledge that the concerns of his employees would be addressed, and Mr Obieglo and Mr Kowal were re-instated. However, the next day, both men were asked to report to David Leslie's office, where they were met by police officers and escorted from the premises. Their belongings were withheld until they had bought a bus ticket to Edinburgh.

In the written judgement, Employment Judge Hosie said: 'There is no doubt that the discrimination in this case was serious. It caused the claimants' considerable distress, leaving them at one point in the situation where they feared they would be left stranded and homeless in a foreign country with no money to get home, or even imprisoned for an offence which had been fabricated. Their hopes of spending a pleasant summer picking fruit in Scotland and earning some money to assist with their University educations turned into a nightmare. They were treated appallingly, without any common decency or respect, and left frightened and humiliated.'

CSREC caseworker Richard Pitts described his clients' treatment as 'modern day slavery'. He added:
'Mr Leslie would not have dared treat Scottish people the way he treated my clients. He thought he could get away with it because they were Polish and didn't know their rights. That was the reason the Tribunal found his actions to constitute race discrimination'

Ros Micklem, Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland Director said: 'This case highlights the clear mistreatment and exploitation that migrant workers can face. Too often workers from overseas are treated badly, on the assumption that they will simply put up with substandard conditions and illegal pay. We hope that it sends out an important message to employers in Scotland. Discriminating against people because of their race or nationality is not only wrong it can also lead to tough financial consequences.'

Mr Obieglo said 'The reason I want people to hear about my experiences is so that other foreign workers know their rights and know how to assert them - I want to be an example for people to follow.'

Picture “Brothers of the Sun” by Luana Boutilier which is about fellow exploited fruit pickers. 

Hat-tip thingy Col. Roi.
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