September 19, 2020

Labor investigates 1,600 possible labor and health irregularities in agricultural operations, one of the sources of COVID-19 outbreaks


The Labor and Social Security inspectorate has started investigations into more than 1,600 cases of possible irregularities in agricultural holdings since last May, sources from the Ministry explain to elDiario.es. This is the campaign launched this year to detect cases of labor exploitation and even trafficking in human beings that unleashed the ire of the agricultural sector for considering itself singled out and stigmatized. Different organizations called for the resignation of Minister Yolanda Díaz and the president of the largest Navarrese agrarian union threatened “not to be peaceful.”

The next massive agricultural campaigns put the Government and the CCAA on guard to avoid outbreaks of COVID among seasonal workers

The next massive agricultural campaigns put the Government and the CCAA on guard to avoid outbreaks of COVID among seasonal workers

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However, the outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers in the fruit and vegetable sector in a vulnerable situation are the most frequent in the workplace, according to the records of the Ministry of Health. As of August 6, 30 outbreaks involving more than 500 cases had been counted. The living and transportation conditions of these workers are the main causes that favor the contagion of the new coronavirus.

The inspectors had received orders to work for “the possible detection of cases that go beyond administrative offenses and constitute criminal offenses, especially cases of labor exploitation and human trafficking for the imposition of forced labor or services, the slavery or practices similar to slavery, to servitude “. This paragraph, which raised blisters, is not actually specific to this campaign and has been in the documents for three years, although its publication in the media has occurred this year, says the Ministry.

But they do admit that the agrarian campaign that is running in 2020 has several aspects that differentiate it from previous ones in the sector. Year started with a report by the UN rapporteur Philip Alston in which he compared the way of life of temporary immigrants in the Huelva camp with that of refugee camps. Labor reacted by proposing regulatory changes so that the Inspection could appear and intervene in these situations of poverty and exclusion and verify the conditions of slums related to the job denounced by Alston.

A month later the coronavirus epidemic began, has hit the collective of collectors precisely because of the sanitary conditions to which they are sometimes forced. Outbreaks among day laborers, especially those in vulnerable situations, continue to be the most numerous, after those caused by social gatherings. In this context, the number of actions has been intensified and a comprehensive campaign has been designed that, although its starting point is the fight against irregular work situations in the field, it also includes the control of the rest of working conditions (labor, discrimination, occupational health and safety and protection against the spread of COVID-19).

Activity in the agricultural sector has remained essential throughout the validity of the state of alarm caused by the virus, but there has been a limitation of worker mobility that has favored difficulties in hiring. The farmers themselves were warning of a great lack of labor, which according to the unions has had a knock-on effect for thousands of undocumented migrants who have come to the collection areas. This situation could lead to the existence of intermediaries dedicated to the trafficking of workers in exploitative conditions, even with the possible existence of organized schemes.

At this point, in the opinion of the Ministry, time has shown that the inspection campaign was especially necessary this year to pursue and try to prevent cases such as the death of Nicaraguan day laborer Eleazar Blandón, who was left with a heat stroke at the gates from a health center in Murcia after working a double shift in the morning and afternoon picking fruit at more than 44º without any type of protection. Blandón lacked a work permit and provided services on an agricultural holding through a service company, a regular supplier of labor for the company that owns said holding.

Most of the actions are still ongoing, 25% are in Murcia

Most of the 1,600 open actions are still ongoing due to their complexity (irregular employment, health and safety, protection against COVID-19, working conditions of workers …), so there is no definitive data on sanctions and infractions. Of the files that have already been finalized, the majority are related to irregular economy (registering ex officio to social security), as well as health and safety, where there have been numerous warnings regarding compliance with the health protection measures against COVID-19 . For example, in the province of Badajoz a cereal and legume plantation was detected with 17 workers without registering; in Alicante, a performance with the provision of services of five people without permission to work; in Córdoba, in a company dedicated to support activities for agriculture, the Inspection found 13 lack of registration (one of them receiving unemployment benefit) and two men without work permits; In the province of Ciudad Real, in a cereal and legume farm, 10 discharges were detected, one of them receiving unemployment benefit.

In Murcia, in addition to the action derived from the investigation of the fatal accident due to thermal stress in Blandón, the action in a company dedicated to the cultivation of vegetables, roots and tubers in which 23 workers were identified without registering in the Social Security, one of them receiving unemployment benefit, plus a foreign worker in an irregular situation. In this autonomous community, almost 400 actions have been opened, 25% of the total.

In addition, to date there have been several files that have resulted in communications to the Prosecutor’s Office, while the employment contracts of 1,940 workers have been reviewed, making the temporary contracts of 578 men and 177 women permanent. In the campaigns, which are planned on a provincial basis with the coordination of government delegations or sub-delegations, in addition to inspection personnel, security forces personnel (generally the Civil Guard) participate, acting jointly.

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