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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 17:14 GMT
Flower pickers were 'slaves'
Flowers generic
Many Cornish flower growers rely on foreign labour
A group of more than 50 Greek nationals have returned home after payment for work on a flower farm in west Cornwall failed to materialise.

The workers say they were treated as "slaves" and had to survive on meagre rations during their time in the Hayle area.

The claims come as the issue of so-called gangmasters using cheap migrant labourers in the UK is highlighted following the deaths of 19 cocklers in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.

Greek police are hunting the gangmasters who recruited the 54 flower workers in the village of Sofades in the north of the country.

Slice of bread

The Greek embassy said the village had a high rate of unemployment and the workers were offered up to 25 a day and free board.

But they were not paid and three of them had to share a slice of bread and a tin of food a day.

The Greek group told Reuters news agency that they had arrived in Britain legally in mid-January to take up jobs.

The group, among them 10 women, travelled to their workplace to find they would be staying all together in a barn with no heating or proper plumbing.

We'd come back to that shed where we were sleeping and get dog food cans for dinner
Thomas Dalipis, one of the workers

"We were out working like slaves everyday... picking flowers," said Thomas Dalipis, one of the workers.

"We'd come back to that shed where we were sleeping and get dog food cans for dinner, and not even one per person.

"Ten people had to share one cigarette."

Mr Dalipis said at the end of the first week, the workers asked for their wages but the boss refused, saying they were still in his debt as he had put up the money for their fares from Greece.

"Same story the next week," he said. "We tried to make a run for it but they sent in some heavies with sticks one night and threatened to hurt us. They beat up a couple of people as well."

After two weeks, the group got in touch with their home town and the Greek embassy co-ordinated their return on Wednesday night when coaches picked them up from their accommodation at the Marsh Lane industrial estate in Hayle.

Devon and Cornwall Police were on hand to help, but have received no complaints from the workers.

Many Cornish flower and bulb farms rely on foreign workers and local MPs have raised concerns about the influx of illegal workers as demand grows.




SEE ALSO:
Stranded cocklers evade disaster
12 Feb 04  |  Lancashire
Cockle picker's last call to wife
11 Feb 04  |  Lancashire
Fishing pair 'deny manslaughter'
11 Feb 04  |  Lancashire
Cockling survivors relate tragedy
10 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
South China's fortune seekers
09 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Deadly sands of Morecambe Bay
07 Feb 04  |  Lancashire
Rich pickings for big risks
06 Feb 04  |  England


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