Sweden is home to a variety of berries. Its forests have cloudberries, blackberries, cranberries, and many other different types of berry at their disposal. This has become an avenue for Thai migrant workers lately to earn money. These workers usually come to Sweden during the high-yielding period of July to September to pick berries and earn sufficient money to feed their families. On the outside, it may seem as a comfortable endeavour, but at the end of it all, is their hard work making them enough money?
The Costs outweigh the earnings.
Thai workers have to make a lot of arrangements before making their trip to Sweden. They have to plan their finances which will help them make the transition easy. A recent DW Documentary has put light on the lives of these Thai Workers, who have a modest background & have to make necessary provisions to make ends meet.
- The average earning for a single worker during the harvest is in the range of 13,000 Baht to 30000 Baht. These workers usually take loans from the employment agency of Thailand to cover their costs of living in Sweden for that duration. The amount of these loans are around 75000 Baht which equals to 2200 Euros.
- The flight trip to Sweden is the expensive part of their journey. The workers have to give away a huge pie of their earnings in loans and expenses such as accommodation, food, traveling to the forests to pick. Some workers prepare and carry their own meal which saves a little bit of their money. For the worker, everything rests on their efforts on picking as many berries, but a lot depends on external factors as well.
The reality is different after arrival.
The workers are read through the terms of the employment before their arrival by their employers in Sweden. The contracts are laid out in which a minimum wage of 2000 euros will be paid to the workers after every month. The worker has to work only for 8 hours & 6 days, Sunday is their day -off.
- In the documentary, one Thai worker says that the contract terms ''are just a way to get us to come over to Sweden". The minimum wage structure is not followed by the owners & they justify this by saying that " the average worker doesn't want to be paid the minimum wage because he earns more by working overtime". In other words, you get paid for the number of berries you pick.
- The average berries picked after a day's work is 1 kg of berries which equals 2.20 euros, which means, if this is the trend the workers won't be able to earn the minimum wage, let alone making money above the minimum wage. These are some of the challenges the workers have to contend with ,but it doesn't discourage the workers as they have the belief they will make enough to feed their families.
- The unpredictable nature of the climate is another factor that should be taken into consideration, as it makes a huge difference between a fruitful and fruitless season of berry picking.
New tax rules is a disadvantage to the workers.
- Sweden recently announced that non-EU workers who have worked under 183 days for their employer will have to pay 25% of their income as tax. These new regulations have made it hard for the workers to have enough money left to pay back their debts and also for themselves.
- The decision came after a very successful berry harvesting season in 2020 where the Thai workers made around 800 million Baht in three months. Thai workers were both in Finland (580 Workers )& Sweden(2000 workers) in 2020, a single worker earned a monthly income of around 80000 baht during that period.
Difficult to accumulate large amounts of Berries.
The berry pickers' task is cut out when they are on the hunt for different berries in the forests. They usually pick in groups of three or four, if there is a good number of berries available. During some seasons, when the berries are in low supply the workers have to walk up to 10 km or more to seek berries that might be available if they scour the land more. This inconsistent nature of harvesting berry produce makes it very difficult to make progress for the workers in their attempts. But the workers have made peace with this fact, and continue to give their best in searching for berry-filled fields with the hope that they will come across one.
After reaching the conclusion of the berry harvest season, the worker's income is dependent on the kilos of berries they picked. Considering the challenges, if it is a high picking season the workers will make enough money that will help them to make ends meet until the next season, or if the collection of berries were not up to the high standards they expected, the workers distribute the profit with each other.
There have been instances where workers have made it big within one or two berry-laden harvest seasons, due to which some workers in Thailand are able to have tractors & lands of their own. Whereas some only earn enough that will pay off their debts and finance their children's education. Nevertheless, the optimism of these workers from Thailand makes them turn an average berry picking season into a productive one when the next season comes along.
Sources- Wikipedia, DW documentary- Thai berry pickers in Sweden.