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Farms and Factories: Europe’s Search for (Cheap) Labor

December 18, 2017
Plain English Version

A Foxconn factory in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Photo Credit: Milan Bures for The New York Times

Wages are what employers pay to their workers. The less they pay the workers, the more the employers profit for themselves. It is the reason why they hire Mexican workers who cross the border to find jobs in the United States. They are willing to work for low wages.

Europe is different from America. It includes poor countries like Mexico. For example, Romania and Bulgaria are poor compared to France and Germany. But these countries are members of the European Union. That means they are not considered ‘foreign’ countries in the EU as Mexico is in the U.S.

But these countries are Europe’s Mexico.

Companies do not make all those smartphones and televisions in the Far East. Many come from countries like the Czech Republic. But Czech workers do not make them. Companies like Foxconn and Panasonic have factories in the Czech Republic. The workers come from Bulgaria and Romania.

Working conditions are very bad. The workers live in dormitories and the companies’ bus them to the factories. Big employment agencies find them in their home countries. The agencies sign contracts with these workers. When their contracts expire, the agencies send them home. New workers replace them.

The workers do manual labor and service jobs. Employers use them to get around laws that protect local workers’ wages.

What kinds of work to the migrant do the workers do? They pour concrete in France. They work assembly lines in Eastern Europe. Until Britain left the European Union, they picked vegetables in that country.

Agents tell the workers they will get good wages and bonuses. Here is a problem. The workers sign contracts that are written in languages other than their own.

The employment agencies and the factory owners both pledge to follow the law. Violations of the law are hard to prove. Whenever there is a rule companies find a way to get around it.

For example, employment agencies may become the employer. The workers do not work for the company they are doing the work for. That is a way to maintain workers as ‘temporary.’ They are not entitled to the benefits real employees get.

An expert said, “If there’s a race to the bottom it is being driven by our own governments.”

Source: The New York Times December 11, 2017




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