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April 21, 2008

Greek farmers, migrant workers clash over pay, 'slave' working conditions

Fighting has erupted in Southern Greece between strawberry farmers and migrant workers striking for higher pay.

According to a Greek trades union support the migrants, about 400 were attacked by farmers and what were described as "hired thugs."Three trade unionists were hurt and one farmer was arrested, police say.

The clashes occurred in an area hit by last year's fires, and where slave labour conditions for fruit pickers have recently been revealed.

The fighting took place in the village square of Neo Manolada in the province of Ilia - which produces 90% of Greece's strawberries, and whose agriculture was ruined during the fires.

Slave labour conditions in the strawberry plantations were exposed earlier this month. Most of the pickers are immigrants, and receive wages well below the national average.They live in shacks and are forced to pay as much as half their income in rent to their employers.

Last week the workers from South Asia and the Balkans went on strike to demand that their daily wage be increased from $36 to $47 (£18 to 24; 23 to 30 euros). The farmers say that would ruin them.

Ilia is one of the areas complaining that it is still to receive compensation promised after the fires.

For their part, the pickers say they are virtually destitute and are being exploited. Most of them came to Greece to send money back home to their families.

But with food prices rising in Greece as elsewhere in the world, the migrants say they are finding it impossible to survive.


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