Thirty-year-old veteran Jaba Chachanidze joined a temporary farm worker program jointly organised by the German and Georgian governments. When he arrived, he found nothing but backbreaking labour, squalor, and returned with less than 10% of the money he was promised.
‘I sell fruits and vegetables at the market and in this way provide for my family — my parents, four brothers and my son. I am the only one working in the family and had big hopes about working in Germany. That's why I was so upset and angry when everything turned into a nightmare.'
‘I did not expect to find such a difficult situation in Germany because that program of temporary farm work for Georgian citizens was organised by the Georgian and German government.'
‘Two days before leaving for Germany, I went through an online training program in Georgia. The state promised that I would bring about €5,000 from Germany in three months of work on a strawberry plantation. As a rule, I should not have earned less than €1,300 in a month.’
‘Nowadays, Georgia is such a poor country that it was a pretty good paycheck. I had very high expectations. But the reality turned out to be completely different.'
‘At first I went to strawberry plantations near Stuttgart. I was shocked after I realized what’s happening — the living and working conditions were absolutely different from what Georgia promised us’.
‘When I arrived, my employer said that I had to earn a salary at a completely different rate and all of us were charged additional taxes’.
‘It turned out that we would not have an hourly wage, but would be paid according to the amount of strawberries collected. The worst thing was that we were paid three times less for each box collected than the €9.35 hourly wage promised.’
‘Added to that I had to pay €150 for “housing” per month, when in fact it consisted of two interconnected containers in which 24 of us, workers from Georgia, lived.’
‘Probably the hardest part about the working conditions was that in the month-and-a-half that I worked, it rained for a total of 25-30 days. The employer gave us neither rubber boots nor raincoats. We had to buy everything ourselves.'
Forced to pick strawberries
‘I arrived in Germany on 9 May, I immediately took a video of our living conditions and sent it to the Employment Agency of Georgia and the Embassy of Georgia. They asked me for a detailed letter and to send photos. After that there was no response.’
‘Ten days passed without anyone from the embassy calling us and asking anything about our problems. After I called them again, they were surprised that nothing changed. I still don’t understand how it could be addressed when no one thought of helping us or even paying attention.’
‘When I was working at the first farm and contacted journalists, my employer told me, “You will be fired if you continue to spread false information”.'
‘After the threat, I decided to find another job and started working in a brewery. But I was soon threatened by the Georgian Employment Agency and the farm employer — they told me I was working illegally in another place and the employer said that he would inform the police.'
‘I had to go back to picking strawberries in four days.’
‘After all these problems, I called Nino Veltauri, the head of the employment agency of Georgia, and asked her one question: 'Could someone have gone to Germany in advance and checked how and under what conditions we were allowed to work and live?'
‘She replied, “for your sake we could not go and check”. Had I known the real conditions I found in Germany, I would not have gone there.’
'We did not even have drinking water'
‘A month and a week after arriving in Stuttgart I made about €300 but in the end, my employer gave me only €100.’
‘He said that we had to pay him for everything: for dinner, which he gave us once a day; for living in his containers, which he called a ‘house’; after we came to Germany we would ride a bus to the farm, so each of us had to pay €35 for it.
‘So instead of the promised €1300, I earned €100.’
‘Another nightmare was living in that “house”. The containers had two bathrooms for 24 people [...] we had one water heater and there were six women among us, whom we always allowed to go first. We, the men, constantly bathed in cold water.’
‘None of us had any personal space. Added to all this was a catastrophic lack of money. Work gloves, raincoats, boots, products, internet, water — everything we had to purchase — we didn't even have drinking water there.'
‘Once we had decided that we should leave that place, I wrote to the German Labor Inspectorate, which checks the employer on the working and living conditions they provide.’
‘Some immigrants I had met recommended a company who could help me. Neither the embassy nor the employment agency had taken the initiative to help us. This company offered to move us to another farm near Bremen, in the northern part of Germany, where the living conditions were better.’
‘Twenty of us moved to a second job where we were paid less, there was no dinner, and we had to buy the dishes and all the household items.’
‘The situation did not change.’
‘I returned from Germany without any money at all. I had to go to a second-hand shop to buy clothes.'
‘Now I have a debt of €1100 — from here I went to Germany I borrowed €800 and when I arrived I borrowed another €300. Now every second of my life I think, how I can possibly pay it all back.’
‘Most of those who went to Germany for temporary work now have psychological problems, myself included. I still can only fall asleep after taking medication.'
'All of this has made me so angry.’
‘The state had no response, they did nothing to help. They abandoned us.’