Since 15 May 2020, part of the workforce of Claus und Sabine Ritter GbR in Bornheim has been on strike over the payment of wages to which they are entitled. After six days of strike and a wage payment for some of the Romanian workers, the Romanian Minister of Labour announced on 20 May during a visit on site that she had agreed on a three-point programme with the responsible insolvency administrator Schulte-Beckhausen. This includes the payment of all outstanding wage claims, the organisation of the return journey of workers at the expense of the Romanian government and the placement of workers on other farms with the help of the farmers’ association.
After further wages were paid on 20 May, some of the workers left to check the working and accommodation conditions in other farms. Other workers started their journey home. A third part of the workers stayed in the barracked container facility controlled by Security, where the Romanian and some Polish workers are accommodated.
All Romanian workers at Ritter are currently in possession of a valid employment contract and a rental contract. Neither have the employment contracts been terminated by Claus und Sabine Ritter GbR to date, nor has the necessary written termination of the company housing contracts been carried out in compliance with the statutory periods of notice provided for this purpose. The workers are therefore still regular tenants of the housing estate Am Ühlchen 17 in Bornheim, with all rights arising from German tenancy law.
When a group of seven workers returned to their accommodation on Saturday, 23 May, they were informed that they had to leave the accommodation immediately on the same day. Following the agreement with the Minister, the workers had previously gone to another farm to find out about the conditions there. Afterwards they had decided not to accept the bad conditions there and instead to return to their company apartments.
The local members of the Free Workers Union (FAU), which has many members among the workers, also learned that some of the workers in the shelters were being asked to leave the compound.
None of the factory apartments have a court eviction order that would give the operator or its security any right to deny the workers access to their homes, let alone to deny them access to the barred area, which resembles housing for Chinese migrant workers.
It is expected that more groups of workers, who are currently studying the conditions on other farms, will return to their accommodation and homes in the coming days. We are afraid that the operator will try to undermine the legal tenancy law here as well.
Meanwhile, the strawberry harvest continued at Claus und Sabine Ritter GbR with their own workers. This means that both up to 200 auxiliary workers from Germany, who were recruited by the insolvency administrator in April (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIC8r7IPr50), and several dozen Romanian workers harvested in the past few days. As FAU has learned from local workers, they, as well as their Romanian colleagues, harvested in the foil tunnel both yesterday, Saturday, and today, Sunday.
In the course of this evening we learned that the German field workers were now also asked not to come to work. This makes it clear: The harvest was stopped at this point at the earliest.
We are very worried that the insolvency administrator with the help of the security will try once again to create facts and will kick out the people living in the container settlement as soon as he thinks he doesn’t have to fear any consequences.
The FAU Bonn condemns in the strongest possible terms the attempt of the company management to deny the workers access to their flats and to drive them into homelessness in violation of the tenancy law. It will closely observe further developments, not only with regard to the situation at the residential area Am Ühlchen 17, and if necessary react quickly and decisively.
Bonn, May 24, 2020
press officer: 01784618733