SEF union members have called on the government to cease the “enslavement of migrant workers”, especially in the Alentejo region, while accusing the MAI of “sleeping”.
Speaking to the Lusa agency, the president of the Union for the Investigation and Inspection of Foreigners and Borders Service (SCIF / SEF), Acácio Pereira, stated that the issue of farm workers in the Alentejo had already been raised in the past.
Acácio Pereira said that, in addition to the union denouncing exploitation situations, SEF itself reported in the Annual Internal Security Report (RASI) the existence of cases of human trafficking and related crimes linked to the issue of migrants in Portugal.
“The Government has been sleeping and more specifically, the Minister of Internal Administration (MAI), is pretending that the situation does not exist, allowing companies to enslave workers, because it is slavery that we are talking about, allowing this work to enter the economy and for this human misery to continue to exist ”, said the union president.
Acácio Pereira said that the union that represents SEF inspectors “does not accept that the Government says it does not know” about this because this situation has been previously reported in the RASI.
“Social security itself has a record of contributions received, the entities linked to the formation of companies themselves, are aware of the number of employees and companies that are created and then closed. There is a whole set of situations that the Government cannot alienate”, he underlined.
The union president added that this situation “only came to the fore for health reasons and it was impossible to hide it” due to outbreaks of Covid-19 among farm workers in the region.
“Companies have been making unreasonable profits,” he said, asking people if “when they go to the supermarket they are aware of the human misery and the exploitation of slave labour behind some of the products on sale?”
For the president of SCIF / SEF, the Government “does not act, it reacts”.
The union says that Portugal must “be a humanistic, welcoming country”, but it must also provide the conditions to “not enslave people”.
“The Government has allowed this enslavement of migrant workers”, he stressed, considering that these are cases of “modern day slavery”, which involve putting people to work, giving them low wages, taking into account that they are paid at the rate of wages in their home country, and living in subhuman conditions by sharing with “10, 20, 30, 40 people in the same house”.
According to the union, this problem is happening all over the country but is most visible at this time of the year in Odemira. However it also happens during the cherry picking season in the interior and during the harvest time, in the Douro.
SEF also revealed to Lusa that there are currently 32 inquiries taking place in several counties in the Alentejo, six of which in Odemira, for the crimes of human trafficking, aiding illegal immigration and the organisation of illegal labour.
In a press release sent to the Lusa agency, SEF stresses that it has been “closely monitoring the permanence and activity of foreigners in Alentejo, especially those who work on intensive farms”.
The 2020 RASI states that “labour exploitation continues to be a phenomenon present in Portugal” and that workers, mostly from Romania, Moldova, Pakistan, Nepal and India, are recruited to work in seasonal campaigns, such as the olive harvest, chestnuts, fruits or vegetables, being transported to the farms where they start to work and live ”.
“The geographical extension of the places where they are put to work, usually located in the interior of the Alentejo or in the west of the country, make it difficult for the inspection entities to act”, said the RASI last year.