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Forced Labour and Trafficking

Unpaid Bangladeshi Workers Shot by Employer in Greece

Public opinion was shocked on yesteday evening after reports about 28 Bangladeshi workers shot during a dispute over back pay in the Nea Manolada area in Greece.

According to media reports, the supervisors opened fire at a crowd of about 200 mostly Bangladeshi immigrants who were demanding six months’ worth of unpaid wages from their employer. The wounded were taken to hospital but none of the injuries was fatal.

But this is a tip of an iceberg,
General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) says in their statement. Nea Manolada, about 260km west of Athens, is an area where strawberry industry accounts to a state within a state, with thousands of migrant farm workers employed, many of them in atrocious working and living conditions.

See the slideshow: http://www.naftemporiki.gr/slideshows/641908

Austerity measures, put in place by the EU have had an effect on creating modern slavery in zones outlawed from labour law. A parallel negative effect appeared on the rise in extremism and racism in Greece, as recently highlighted by the report by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks. One in four workers is unemployed in Greece after five years of recession,

Greece is a gateway for mostly Asian and African migrants trying to enter the European Union through its sea and land borders. Most of those who find work in Greece are employed irregularly; more than 40 percent of Greece’s informal workers are migrants, the majority of them subject to merciless exploitation and deprived of access to rights and justice.

One of the immigrants involved in the protests told Greek Skai TV that they had been promised wages of 22 EUR a day (that would mean less than 3 EUR per hour for a 8-hour daily shift. In practice workers are usually forced to work a double of that time each day). And even this money was not paid. "They keep telling us that we will get paid in a month, and this has been going on for more than a year," said the worker "We don’t talk about it because we are afraid that we will be killed or kicked out."

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Insufficient Government action
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou condemned today what he called an "inhuman attack"."This unprecedented and shameful act is foreign to Greek ethics," he said. But this is not the first time such shocking incident takes place in Greece.

Nea Manolada itself has already been in the spotlight over exploitation of migrants. In 2008 workers staged a strike against inhumane conditions. Last year, two Greek men were arrested for beating a 30-year-old Egyptian, jamming his head in the window of a car door and dragging him for around one kilometer. The Muiznieks’ report on its part refers to the meeting of the Greek Parliament’s plenary on 18 October 2012, where the Golden Dawn MP, Eleni Zaroulia, referred to migrants in Greece as “sub-humans who have invaded our country, with all kinds of diseases.” There was little reaction from the Parliament to these widely reported remarks.

According to the EU report published this week, the number of victims of human trafficking (including those trafficked for labour exploitation) is increasing in Europe. The number of identified or presumed victims mounted by 18 % between 2008 and 2010. During the same time period, however, the number of convictions for human trafficking fell by 13 per cent. Agreed in 2011, Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims proposes higher penalties for offenders, increased protection for victims and aims to make prosecution easier. But so far, only 6 out of the 27 EU member states have fully transposed the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive into their national legislation, despite a deadline of 6 April, and Greece is obviously not among them.

Human trafficking is worth an estimated 2.5 billion EUR in Europe alone, bringing easy, low-risk illicit profits to the exploiters and costing workers lost chances, damaged health, emotional suffering and more and more often a deadly danger for any attempt of standing up for rights.

A social media campaign has now been launched to boycott the fruit from Nea Manolada, calling them "blood strawberries".

Trafficking for labour exploitation in Europe needs to be better addressed. While actors in the field have only discovered a tip of an iceberg, any solution to the problem will require understanding of new trends, developing new responses and partnerships.

For that reason trade unions, NGOs and faith based organizations launched a partnership to contribute to anti-trafficking response in Europe. Through the new project ITUC, together with Anti-Slavery International and Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe as international partners, will improve responses to labour trafficking. The three organzations, as well as national partners in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania and Spain will in particular focus on exploring new trends in trafficking – such as gender dimension of labour trafficking, more and more severe exploitation of increasingly large groups of exploited migrant workers in mainstream economic activities and new labour trafficking recruitment methods including the use of Internet and ICTs.

The FINE TUNE project is supported by the ISEC/EU DG Home grant and it forms a part of the ITUC global action for protection of rights of trafficked workers and strenghtening labour standards for decent work.