Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 13:14 UK

David Leslie Fruits fined for Polish worker abuse

Fruit picker
The fruit pickers worked 10 and 11-hour days

A Perthshire fruit farm where workers were forced to live in "appalling conditions" has been ordered to pay more than £26,000 to two fruit pickers.

David Leslie Fruits was told to pay the cash to Polish students Tomasz Kowal and Michal Obieglo for withholding wages and racial discrimination.

A tribunal in Dundee heard David Leslie had an "arbitrary and discretionary" approach to paying workers.

He was also accused of frightening and humiliating his staff.

The hearing was told that English speakers Mr Kowal and Obieglo had come to the Perthshire farm, which specialises in growing strawberries, in June 2009 to earn money for their studies in Poland.

They were treated appallingly, without any common decency or respect, and left frightened and humiliated
Judge Hosie

During their time at the farm they lived among 200 workers in cramped metal cabins with no running water or lockers for personal belongings.

Workers were also expected to drag a sledge half a mile, unpaid, before spending between 10-11 hours a day in fields picking fruit.

After working for the firm for a month, Mr Kowal and Mr Obieglo asked Mr Leslie to clarify what their rate of pay was after some workers received between £1 and £5 per hour.

As a result, the men were threatened then sacked but were later reinstated when other workers, who relied on their translation abilities, said they would go on strike.

When the pair presented a 145-name petition calling on Mr Leslie to pay fair wages and to give them the minimum wage, they were accused of stealing fruit, told to collect their belongings and escorted from the farm by police.

'Considerable distress'

Eventually the pair were taken to Perth bus station by officers and told to board buses for either Glasgow or Edinburgh.

The Dundee hearing was told that Mr Obieglo booked a flight back to Poland from Prestwick while Mr Kowal was forced to hitch hike home because he had no money.

Judge Hosie said: "There is no doubt that the discrimination in this case is serious.

"It caused the claimants considerable distress leaving them at one point in the situation where they feared they would be left stranded and homeless in a foreign country with no money to get home or even imprisoned for an offence which had been fabricated."

Calling their time in Scotland a "nightmare", Judge Hosie added: "They were treated appallingly, without any common decency or respect, and left frightened and humiliated."

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