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Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK

World: Europe

Spain seeks million foreign workers

Many locally born inhabitants want to avoid low-paid work in the fields

By Daniel Schweimler in Madrid

The Spanish Government says it is to allow a million immigrants into the country over the next three years.

The move comes after pressure from the country's agriculture and construction industries which say they do not have enough workers.

This is despite Spain having the highest unemployment rate in the European Union.

The Spanish authorities have already signed an accord allowing workers to come from Morocco. Similar deals are planned with Colombia, Ecuador, Mali, Romania and Poland.

Back-breaking work

Spain already has about a million immigrants - about a quarter of whom are in the country illegally.

But employers in both the agriculture and construction industries say they are fed up with employing illegal immigrants.

[ image: Most immigrants try to escape poverty in Morocco]
Most immigrants try to escape poverty in Morocco
They say they want their workers to come to Spain by ferry not stowed away on cargo ships or on makeshift boats operated by criminal gangs.

Spain has created more jobs than any country in the European Union but the low-paid jobs filled by the immigrants - back-breaking work in the fields or on construction sites - do not appeal to Spaniards.

State assistance

The Spanish authorities will allow in about 300,000 workers a year on nine-month contracts.

They will be helped with transport and housing costs and guaranteed health care and reasonable working conditions.

Spain has one of the fastest growing economies in western Europe and the government said a steady supply of workers was necessary to maintain that growth.

Meanwhile, thousands of illegal immigrants continue to try to enter Spain through the two Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in North Africa, on flimsy boats across the treacherous Straits of Gibraltar or stowed away on cargo ships.

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