The Ministry of Employment downplays complaints and defends farm owners in Huelva

Keeping up with the situation of Moroccan strawberry pickers in Huelva, the Moroccan Ministry of Employment finally sheds light on one case alleging sexual abuse. The move, however, comes after the department denied on several occasions the existence of one.

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A few weeks after several Moroccan strawberry pickers in Huelva, Spain started denouncing alleged sexual and labor abuses in the fields, the Ministery of Employment and Vocational Training in charge of sending these workers in a program concluded with the Spanish authorities, refers to only one complaint.

«Only one case alleging sexual abuse has been reported by Moroccan strawberry pickers in Huelva, Spain... and it is currently in court», wrote the Ministry in a communiqué released Friday.

One arrest

The Ministry's response comes almost one month after a delegation sent to the fields, firmly stressed that none of the Moroccan farm-workers had ever filed a complaint denouncing abuse nor reported alleged sexual harassment.

The same statement was relayed by the Ministry's secretary general, when speaking to Yabiladi in May.

However, the 47-year-old suspect the Ministry is making reference to was arrested Friday, 25th of May, almost ten days after the ministerial delegation came back to Morocco, denying on several occasions the veracity of the alleged sexual abuses witnessed by Moroccan women in Huelva's strawberry fields.

In the same communiqué, relayed by MAP press agency, the department headed by PJD minister Mohammed Yatim, clarified the reason why several Moroccan strawberry workers are being deported back to the Kingdom by their bosses.

«400 workers were planned to return to Morocco on the 5th of June which marks the end of the strawberry-picking season», argued the ministry.

In Spain, the procedure was interpreted differently. On Sunday, local authorities in Almonte, Huelva interferred to stop the deportation of more than 400 Moroccan farm workers, who said they were being kicked out by their bosses after they decided to expose abuse.

In a paper published this week by El Espanol, a Moroccan woman who works in the fields said she was being sent back to Morocco alongside her colleagues two months before the expiry of her visa.

For the Andalusia Workers Syndicate (SAT), sending workers back to their country is a business strategy these farms use to avoid getting into troubles. According to the body that accompanied nine women on Sunday when lodging complaints against their managers, farms are trying to send their employees home before they could report abuse like the others.

Wages and working conditions

Moreover, the ministry has referred in its statement to the wages these women receive for their work, stating that they are paid «37 Euros for 6 hours and a half». The department, however, did not mention unjustified punctures and challenges that these women can face.

This was explained Friday by the spokesperson for SAT José Antonio who told Yabiladi that women in the farms were underpaid and that their employers took advantage of their naivety to withhold a few Euros from them.

Their work contract suggests that they should be paid 40 Euros a day, yet many of them barely receive 36 to 37 Euros a day.

Furthermore, the same communiqué has praised the program set by the Spanish and Moroccan ministries. It also points out that in 2009, «intermediates» (Moroccan women who can speak Spanish), were hired by the program to monitor the situation of more than 15,000 women working in Huelva.

The ministry's response comes as the situation in Southern Spain is getting tumultuous. Several women have lodged complaints against their managers in the fields accusing them of sexual and labor-related abuse.

Some of these women, who claim being vulnerable, with children to care for, have sought the help of the Andalucia Workers Syndicate, which accompanied 400 of them to report against alleged abuse in a collective complaint.

The syndicate is organizing a march on Sunday, June the 17th, that will be attended by these women. They will rally in Huelva chanting : «Yes to strawberries and no to abuse», said the same source who called other associations in Morocco and in Spain to join the movement.

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