A Spanish bishop has decried the “inhumane exploitation” of migrant seasonal workers, deploring that in some cases they are earning just 20 euros for a 16-hour day.
– Day labourers toiling “without water under a scorching sun, living in overcrowded conditions, without so much as a simple mattress”
Juan Carlos Elizalde, the Bishop of Vitoria in Spain’s northern Basque Country, made the most of a sermon in a Mass for the Feast of the Assumption August 15 in Vitoria cathedral to denounce the “alarming situation” that thousands of seasonal workers, “mostly immigrants”, are experiencing during the months of the Northern Hemisphere summer.
Reminding his flock that “thousands of workers” come to Spain from other countries “to do the work that most of us do not want to do”, Elizalde – since March the Spanish Bishops’ pointman for migration issues – deplored the “harsh” reality of day labourers.
Migrants seeking work in Spain travel “hundreds of kilometres – thousands in some cases – until they arrive here to earn on some occasions barely 20 euros for days of up to 16 hours’ work without water and under a scorching sun, living in overcrowded conditions, without so much as a simple mattress, sleeping on the floor”, the bishop lamented.
Elizalde pointed out that for the grape harvest, for example, only 5% of workers are of Spanish origin, whereas 95% are immigrants.
“On behalf of the Church, I thank those agricultural business people from all over Spain who take care of and provide what is necessary for these people to guarantee them a decent job, but in all truth, there are many seasonal workers who find themselves in unacceptable conditions”, the bishop denounced.
– “Aren’t they people who deserve dignity?”
In his sermon for the Assumption, Bishop Elizalde didn’t just limit himself to denouncing the situation of seasonal workers.
Rather, he pointed the finger directly at employers in the agricultural industry who keep workers in an “unfathomable and unacceptable” regime of “semi-slavery”.
“Why aren’t [seasonal workers] ensured decent housing, decent working conditions, a decent salary, a decent rest during the time that it takes to harvest the fruits of the earth? Aren’t they people who deserve dignity?”, the bishop implored.
“In the middle of summer, under the scorching sun and in the face of this harsh pandemic, many of these workers have nothing and nowhere to eat and no shaded places to rest. Is it too much to ask for a solution?”, he continued.
Warning that the “hard physical work” that seasonal workers do “is not an excuse for inhumane exploitation”, Elizalde pleaded with “employers, unions and government… to put an end to the unacceptable conditions that these people endure”.
“And it is not OK to cheat, like by putting them to work 16 hours a day and only counting 8, or having them work for 20 days and only paying them 7”, the bishop warned.
Elizalde pleaded that the exploitation of migrant workers “should scandalise us as human beings and as a Church”.
“We cannot look the other way, but instead must become an example of welcome to those who come to earn their bread with their sweat and ensure them dignity for as long as they are among us. There is no excuse for not doing this”, he said.
– “Let us not reduce everything to mere economic gain. The end does not justify the means”
One final point Elizalde referred to in his powerful sermon August 15 was efforts “to criminalise” migrant workers “and blame them for creating sources of contagion” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the working conditions of migrants “is dignified for all intents and purposes, including hygienic conditions, there will be no more risk of spreading”, the bishop recalled.
“While a health threat may be hanging over us, there has already been a sentence passed for [migrant workers] if we do not improve their living and working conditions”, Elizalde concluded.
“Let us learn the lessons that this pandemic is teaching us day after day. Let us take care of each other. Let us be brothers and sisters because we are all in the same boat and no one is saved alone. Let us not reduce everything to mere economic gain. The end does not justify the means. Human life deserves dignity”.