Elk hunts and ‘paparazzi’ threaten berry pickers

A firm in northern Sweden has claimed in a letter to the Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) that its berry pickers face a slew of dangers including poisonous mushrooms, elk hunters, monotony, and "paparazzi-style" journalists.

Berry firm Norrskensbär from Skellefteå has in its letter identified traffic accidents involving elk and slippery roads as the most common causes of work related accidents for their berry pickers, but also names a further raft of possible dangers to health and safety.

Among them are: sharp branches or stones, alone in the forest (sic), elk hunting, aggressive media, superstition, poisonous mushrooms, bad mobile phone signal, and standing in a monotone position.

“Aggressive media” are classified as a “high risk” and the firm describes journalist attempts to approach the pickers as “almost like paparazzi”. The firm details a new policy for 2010 that approaches from the media will be handled through camp leaders.

There has been significant coverage in the national media in recent weeks regarding the pay and working conditions of berry pickers, most of whom are seasonal immigrant workers who pay substantial amounts of money to come to Sweden from south-east Asia.

Much of the focus has been on pay and has centred around allegations that berries are in short supply and thus workers are unable to earn the sums required to fund their trip and return home with money in their pockets.

New regulations were introduced in 2009 to ensure that the berry pickers were guaranteed a minimum wage but according to some media reports many of the workers then sign a second contract waiving their right and instead receive payment for berries picked.

Union representatives have expressed concern that the pickers are open to exploitation and suggest that many are unaware of what they are signing.

“Now that the season has started we are starting to hear from pickers reports of double contracts. It is of course outrageous as it is in breach of the collective agreement,” Inga-Britt Svensson at union Kommunal told the Dagens Nyheter daily.

The Local’s attempts to contact Norrskensbär on Thursday morning have been unsuccessful.

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Germany jails Vietnamese man who aided Cold War-style abduction

A German court on Wednesday sentenced a Vietnamese man to nearly four years in jail for taking part in a brazen Cold War-style kidnapping ordered by Hanoi of an oil executive from a Berlin park.

Germany jails Vietnamese man who aided Cold War-style abduction
Long N.H. standing trial in April in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Judges at the Berlin court said the 47-year-old Czech-Vietnamese national, identified as Long N.H., was guilty of aiding an abduction and working for a foreign intelligence service.

But they handed him a relatively mild sentence of three years and ten months after he confessed to his involvement.

“The accused knew of the plans of the Vietnamese secret service, but did not belong to the top level of command,” judges said in their verdict, according to DPA.

Long N.H. admitted during his trial that he rented the vehicle used in last July's abduction of fugitive Vietnamese state company official Trinh Xuan Thanh, who was spirited back to Hanoi.

Thanh – also a Communist party functionary who was seeking political
asylum in Germany – has since been sentenced to two life terms in Vietnam on corruption charges.

The 52-year-old and his companion were walking in Berlin's Tiergarten park when they were dragged into a van in broad daylight and smuggled back to Vietnam.

The German government was outraged, calling it a “scandalous violation” of its sovereignty.

Communist-ruled Vietnam has always insisted that Thanh, the former head of PetroVietnam Construction, returned voluntarily to face embezzlement charges.

Thanh's German lawyer, Petra Schlagenhauf, has described the kidnapping as
“like a story from the Cold War”.

Mystery route

Long N.H., was once among thousands of so-called guest workers in communist East Germany. He was later denied asylum and resettled in Prague.

He was arrested there last August and extradited to Germany days later.

He admitted renting the van used in the abduction in Prague and driving it to Berlin, but he was not at the wheel during the kidnapping. He then drove the van back to Prague.

It remains unclear exactly how Thanh was transported back to his home country, but investigators believe he was driven to the Slovakian capital Bratislava and then flown to Hanoi.

German media have reported that a Slovakian government plane lent to a visiting Vietnamese delegation at the time was involved in the transfer.

Slovakia has said it noticed nothing suspicious about the delegation or their flights, but warned Hanoi of harsh consequences if the allegations proved true.