Bornheim The strike of harvest workers at Spargel Ritter in Bornheim continues on Wednesday. The Romanian Minister of Labour wants to see for herself what’s going on. Meanwhile, the asparagus harvest has been stopped.
She is two hours late. Violeta Alexandru is taking her time. When the Romanian Minister of Labour finally arrives at noon, the applause of her fellow countrymen is all the greater. During her trip to Germany, the politician visited Bornheim on Wednesday to see for herself what the situation of the harvest workers of Spargel Ritter is like.
The seasonal workers of the company, which is under insolvency administration, are housed in residential containers in the vicinity of the sewage plant and cemetery. The hygiene conditions have recently been objected to by authorities. There has also been criticism of allegedly outstanding wages. The seasonal workers have been protesting since Friday. They are supported by the Free Workers Union (FAU), an anarchist union that appears in several reports on the protection of the constitution.
The minister's visit means discussions about the future of the workers. Insolvency administrator Andreas Schulte-Beckhausen, who runs the business and who banned the former boss Claus Ritter from the premises, has had the harvest stopped prematurely. First of all the asparagus harvest was affected, due to the Corona crisis it was not worth it with the lack of restaurants as customers.
According to a spokesman for Schulte-Beckhausen's law firm, the reason behind the harvest of strawberries now being over is that he can no longer guarantee safety in the fields. That is why he had pulled the plug so quickly.
As the police confirmed upon request, it is suspected that members of FAU tried to stop harvesters from working in a field in Alfter on Monday. Investigations into this matter are ongoing. According to police, another incident occurred on Tuesday morning in front of the home of an employee of the insolvency administrator. A banner with the words "hand over the money" had been found there.
The demand refers to the criticism of the union and some workers, according to which the insolvency administrator is said to have withheld wages. Advances are said to have been of different amounts, and the workers were paid by piecework, which in some cases meant that they did not reach the legal minimum wage.
Schulte-Beckhausen's spokesperson, however, said that all workers would at least receive the minimum wage. He said that the piecework system would only be effective if the wages achieved were higher. However, seasonal workers would have to show up for work in the fields to be paid. This had not always been the case for all workers.
On Wednesday, Romania's Minister of Labour Alexandru first spoke to the harvest workers behind closed doors. Individual scraps of conversation passed on over the fence were translated by interpreters to the crowd of trade unionists, journalists and activists.
One of the activists is Erich Mocanu. The man with Romanian roots said he lived in Bonn for 17 years before he moved to the south of Germany. Mocanu says he is the founder of the association "Angels need guardian angels too", which stands up for people in need, especially Romanians. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the situation on the farms has escalated, he says. In Bornheim, the problem of insolvency was added to the problem. Mocanu is convinced that the wage payments are "not sufficient ever“.
For the media representatives, first-hand information was only available when the gate opened again after about an hour and a half. All workers could continue working on other farms, says Alexandru. This will be implemented with the help of the German Farmers' Association. Preferences of the harvest workers with regard to their place of work will be taken into account. Those who would rather go home would receive support from Schulte-Beckhausen for the return trip. She had discussed this with the insolvency administrator in the morning. In order to make sure that this works, she left him her contact details. The decision for or against the flight home is basically up to the person concerned, Alexandru emphasises.
"This is an "extraordinary situation", the minister also makes clear. The insolvent farm is in serious trouble - and Romanians are unfortunately affected by it. For her, it looks as if other farms in Germany are fulfilling their obligations towards foreign harvest workers.
Nevertheless, there were problems and things that needed to be clarified in the employment contracts of the harvest workers. The Romanian government would now work on this together with the German Farmers' Association.
Meanwhile, the FAU union confirmed that wages were paid to the workers on Wednesday. However, according to a statement, this was done in "Wild West" manner. The workers had been taken to various unspecified places by the insolvency administrator's management in buses. The union could not be reached by telephone to comment on the police investigations.
(Original text: Sven Westbrock / Translation: Mareike Graepel)