When Rigoberto* found out that he was one of the 250 Hondurans selected in his country to work in Huelva during the strawberry campaign, he thought of his house destroyed by the latest tropical storms in Honduras, his farms devastated by pests and his girls sick. He celebrated the news as “an opportunity” to help his family.
Basima, Moroccan day laborer: “I bled for days in pain, I asked my boss to go to the doctor and he fired me”
After making several calculations, he decided that it was worth the long trip to Spain and the expenses not included in the offer, compared to the salary received. His goal was, he says, to fix his home, which was still damaged by the effects of the climatic disasters that hit the country in 2020. But now, after the first payroll received, neither he nor his colleagues are getting the bills.
“When they interviewed us in Honduras they told us that we were going to earn around 1,400 lempiras a day (50 euros), but here we have found that we are not earning that, but, with all the expenses, we receive about 1,141 lempiras (41 euros/ day),” says the Honduran day laborer, hired by the company Agromartín. He has no complaints with the treatment received but, as he explains, upon his arrival there was a clash of expectations. “There they did not explain to us that this amount corresponded to the salary without deductions. They told us that we would only have to pay for food. Now we find that, in addition to taxes, they take away the cost of electricity and gas,” protests the worker by phone from Huelva, while complaints from other colleagues are heard in the background.
Mario* works at Doñana 1998, the second of two companies that already have Honduran day laborers working on their farms. His complaint also focuses on the difference between the salary “committed” and that obtained. “They told us that we would earn 50 euros a day and now they come to us with this. In the contract we signed it did not say anything about salary, we trust it. Now they tell us that we will earn around 40 euros a day and that we can be here until the closing of campaign, so we don’t even know how long we’re going to be able to work,” says the day laborer, who comes from the department of Santa Bárbara, a coffee zone in Honduras.
The contract signed in origin, to which this medium has agreed, cites that their work will be paid “according to the agreement.” “Nobody gave us the agreement, we didn’t read it, we didn’t even know what it was referring to,” acknowledges the employee, from a humble family.
Both seasonal workers are part of the first contingent of day laborers hired in Honduras and arrived in Spain under the collective management program for hiring at origin (GECCO), through a pilot project through which 250 Honduran workers (of those who have arrived 24, divided into two companies) and 250 Ecuadorians (of which 44 are already in Huelva) will work during the red fruit harvesting campaign. Their arrival adds to the usual temporary hiring of more than 12,000 seasonal workers from Morocco, of which 800 have already arrived, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration.
What does the project order say
The pilot project forces employers to pay for the outward journey to Spain, while the employee is responsible for the return ticket, an expense that the day laborers consulted were aware of and had considered in their accounts before making the decision to work in our country. The company must provide “accommodation during work” and “guarantees the Minimum Interprofessional Salary in its contract,” according to sources from the State Secretariat for Migration, responsible for managing the program on migration matters.
At the labor level, the details of the working and accommodation conditions depend on the participating companies, the same sources explain. The International Organization for Migration, through a grant from the Ministry of Migration, has the mission of “verifying that all these accommodations” comply with a series of recommendations included in the order that regulates the contracting program at origin.
Agromartín, one of the two companies that has hired the 24 Honduran day laborers who have already arrived in Spain, confirms a deduction of 1.9 euros per day for electricity and gas for each day laborer, that is, 57 euros per month. According to the manager of the company, the charge for the supply of gas and electricity is covered by the collective agreement of the field in the province of Huelva. The document speaks of the employer’s obligation to provide “free” accommodation in “decent conditions”, but makes no mention of this type of expense, as verified by this medium. The Freshuelva organization, which represents this company and was part of the selection process, has not responded to questions from elDiario.es.
Three Honduran workers from Agromartín deny having been informed of their duty to pay for electricity and gas before their arrival in Spain. “I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but they didn’t notify us in Honduras. They told us when we arrived. We think it’s an excessive expense. We only use a ‘light’ to light the room and many days the hot water doesn’t work, we’ve to notify several times for them to fix it for us,” says Rigoberto. 16 day laborers live in the house provided by the company, for which a total of 912 euros per month would be taken from them to finance the expenses derived from electricity and gas.
Three seasonal workers hired by Agromartín also assure that the company has charged them around 10 euros per person for an antigen test carried out upon arrival in Huelva. According to the order that regulates the program, “the performance of those measures aimed at complying with the health control requirements for SARS-COV-2 required in border control, or in intermediate movements, established by the competent health authority, assuming the cost derived from them”. The company denies it.
“I almost earn the same as in Honduras”
José Antonio* plans to return to his country without finalizing the contract. “We came here with many goals, we even left debts to do the necessary paperwork to come, some left their farms there thrown away (abandoned) to come and we are far from our families,” explains the Honduran, who was dedicated to transporting goods in the capital of your country. “If things continue like this, some of us consider going back. Doing the math, I earn almost the same a day as in my country,” adds the temporary worker from Agromartín.
Employees have also been unhappy with the rooms in company-provided accommodation. “We sleep four people in small rooms. Sometimes you have to wait and you don’t have enough space to move around in the room. We don’t even know where to put food. We can’t even fit our suitcases,” says Rigoberto. As this medium has been able to verify, the day laborers sleep in small rooms with two double bunk beds, separated by a narrow corridor. “Sometimes the water comes out fine, but sometimes it’s cold. Even if it’s with the bottle, sometimes it fails,” he complains. The recommendations of the International Organization for Migration included in the order that regulates the program indicate that the accommodation must guarantee sufficient hot water for all the inhabitants.
Honduran and Ecuadorian day laborers, unlike Moroccan women, assume greater risks from their decision to travel to Spain to work in the fields temporarily. The distance and the cost of the return ticket is one of the obstacles they must face. “In Honduras I used to work in the fields, transporting heavy equipment. I decided to travel here to see what we could solve… Because there sometimes we work hard and hardly anything comes of it,” says Mario, who left behind five children in Honduras, his wife, his father and his mother. “I had a big debate about getting away from my family, but I was in great need and I thought it was worth it. Four days ago, when I was already in Spain, my dad had a stroke… And now I see myself here, earning less than expected… It’s a very painful disappointment.” The temporary worker from Doñana 1998, who in his case has no complaints with the accommodation, assures that he works 8 hours a day, with half an hour off. “There is almost no time to drink water,” says the Honduran.
“We had so many hopes… It’s not what we expected. We’re disappointed,” adds Rigoberto, who aspired to fix up the adobe house where he lives in a rural area of the Central American country. “Since I’m here, I’m going to continue working, because I want to finish the contract and send some money to Honduras. The problem is that there are colleagues who say they prefer not to continue… The money we earned, with the cost of living for Honduras, it’s a little money, to which we must add that we have to pay the return flight ticket… We almost charge the same here as in Honduras,” Rigoberto also laments.
Now, with the new accounts, the Honduran has assumed that the works required for his home will have to wait: “Right now, with the little salary I have, I don’t think I’ll get enough to fix the house, or buy a bit of land or my cart…I don’t think so.”
*The names of the day laborers are fictitious to protect their anonymity, due to the fear expressed by them regarding the possible consequences of their companies for speaking to the press.