„And they charged us for accommodation!“

(See also the video on Youtube.)

The harvesters of the Asparagus and Strawberry Farm Ritter have been accommodated behind the fence of a container facility on the street „Am Ühlchen“ in Bornheim for several years. These two-storey blocks of flats each consist of about 30 bedrooms, a few shower and toilet units, a storage room and a washing and drying room. Three such blocks are located on the site, wedged between a railway line and a water treatment plant.

From 2015 to May 2016, parts of the existing container facility were rented by the city of Bornheim to accommodate refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Albania. The overall condition of the premises was already so bad at this time that the head of the social affairs department, Markus Schnapka, told the General-Anzeiger newspaper for Bonn: „these accommodations do not correspond at all to what is standard for us, they are only acceptable as a temporary solution“. At the time, the city then had part of the complex, which it had rented from Ritter at a high rent (monthly 15.53 € per m2 basic fee plus 5.07 € per m2 consumption fee), renovated and extended at its own expense. This included temporarily equipping the unheated containers with heating facilities for the winter and completely renovating the dilapidated sanitary facilities.

After the refugees had been moved to other facilities from 2016, the container facilities were again used as accommodation for harvest workers in the fields of Claus und Sabine Ritter GbR. It seems that what is standard for the city of Bornheim never applied to them. Within a few months the facilities, which had been renovated at the expense of the city, were back in their original condition due to lack of maintenance and high occupancy.

In the course of the strike of the workers, which started on May 15th, 2020, the FAU demanded that the operator of the asparagus and strawberry farm give access to the accommodation of their union members. It was refused access on the grounds that the premises were not company premises. In fact the workers live like in a prison, shielded by a security which does not allow any visits and prevents the workers from receiving friends or acquaintances in their homes. The whole situation is reminiscent of the infamous hostels of migrant workers in China, where they are locked up on factory premises to control them and prevent any resistance.

In Bornheim, the harvest workers are picked up and brought back to work in the fields by these locked and guarded shelters in disused buses. They can leave the shelter in their free time and since many of them arrived with their own cars, many of them also drive out of the camp to go shopping. But at their place of accommodation during their work in Germany they have no possibility to organize social evenings or barbecues together with people from outside. In fact, they commute from the work in the fields, where they are supervised and driven by supervisors and foremen, to a prison-like accommodation where the security at the gate constantly shows them their strict separation from the local society. It is a racist camp and labour regime on which the production of asparagus and strawberries in Germany is based.

To document the condition of their accommodation, workers of Spargel Ritter have made it visible with a video clip (youtube). What can be seen in these pictures quickly makes it clear why the conditions are apparently not being checked or should be made public. A look into the living and sleeping rooms shows the whole problem of the accommodation of the harvest workers.

The rental contract, which the workers have signed with Claus und Sabine Ritter GbR, assures a flat size of 15 sqm and a shared use of common facilities. This corresponds approximately to the size of the individual living and sleeping rooms in the container facility of 14.2 sqm. According to the rental agreement, each worker is entitled to one of these rooms. In the complex with its 3 blocks there are about 150 such rooms.

But now there are much more Romanian workers working in the foil tunnels of the Asparagus and Strawberry Farm Ritter and they are all tenants in the container plant. This leads to the fact that several of them have to share a room, but the rent for a whole room is deducted from their wages. This is a brilliant business for the operator, because he collects money several times without providing the corresponding service.

Apart from the violation of the contractually guaranteed size of the apartment with full rent, there are also legal regulations, which are obviously not observed by Claus und Sabine Ritter GbR. Even for prison cells with double occupancy a minimum standard of 7 square meters per person applies in Germany. The workplace regulation provides for a minimum standard of 8 square meters per person if there are less than 6 persons. In its guidelines for „Board and lodging for seasonal workers“, the customs authorities refer to the „Guidelines for the lodging of foreign workers in the Federal Republic of Germany of March 29, 1971“, according to which a minimum of 8 square meters per person must also be available.

As a floor plan of the living and sleeping quarters in such container facilities shows, the normal sleeping quarters for two persons have a size of 14.2 square metres, i.e. less than 8 square metres per person. The video shows that there are also double rooms in which the workers sleep in bunk beds. They report that sometimes up to 5 or 6 people have stayed in such rooms, which means a floor space per person of well under 8 square meters. So even the minimal requirements for accommodation of 1971, which date from a time of racist policy of „recruitment of guest workers“ and to which the state still refers today, are not met here.

Since many of the provisionally retrofitted heating systems were defective, the workers had to buy their own fan heaters to survive the still very cold nights in April and early May.

It should not be forgotten that the pictures were taken in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic. Even an occupancy of the rooms, which are only a little more than two meters wide, with only two persons would represent a clearly too large risk of infection in this situation and is therefore a blatant violation of the German Protection against Infection Act. Not to mention the actual occupancy. Infection protection for workers does not seem to be a high priority at the Asparagus and Strawberry Farm Ritter.

Also the sanitary facilities are in an obviously miserable condition, although they had been quickly put in order before the visit of the Romanian Minister of Labour, Violeta Alexandru, on May 20, 2020 in the container warehouse. Instead of a central hot water supply or instantaneous water heaters, we see a small under-sink boiler for a wash basin and hot water boilers for the showers, which have only a limited capacity. Many of the toilets are not operational and are not being repaired.

As the camera tracking through the floors shows, the corridor on the upper floor consists of a grating through which all the dirt falls down. This is also a violation of the customs regulations which require that floors have to have a floor covering warm enough to keep feet warm. This had been objected to during an inspection by the health department, but the company had talked itself out of the fact that the reconstruction would take two weeks. The view through the grating to the upper floor reinforces the impression of accommodation like in a prison.

Video on Youtube

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