Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Importing foreign workers

Agricultural growers are complaining. Native born workers are not willing to work in the harvest. The harvest can only occur if foreign workers arrive who are willing to work long hours for low wages. The wages may be low, but they are higher than the wages that these workers can receive in their own countries.

This might sound like the US and illegal immigrants from Latin America, but this scenario is reportedly the situation for the coffee harvest in El Salvador this year. The conservative El Diario De Hoy ran feature articles on Sunday about coffee farms with a lack of Salvadoran workers available for the harvest. Compounding the problem this year is that the cotton harvest is overlapping the coffee harvest as a result of the prolonged rainy season. The coffee and cotton growers are brining in foreign manual laborers from Honduras and Nicaragua to make sure that the harvest is brought in on time. The agriculture ministry estimates that there could be as many as 20,000 foreign workers.

The report asserts that the shortage of workers is result of the negative influence of remittances. According to government and agriculture industry sources quoted in the article, Salvadorans who are receiving remittances from abroad are used to just receiving money and are not inclined to do the hard manual labor of the harvest. They also point to the migration of persons in recent years from rural to urban areas in search of jobs in maquiladora factories as elsewhere. Finally, the paper also points out that agricultural wages have been stagnant in El Salvador for the past seven years, reducing the attractiveness of such jobs.

Despite such wage stagnation, the farm wages paid in El Salvador are apparently three to four times the going rate in Honduras and Nicaragua. Central American countries agree to allow the free flow of workers between the countries, and so the higher wages in El Salvador are a natural draw for impoverished campesinos in Honduras and Nicaragua.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ironic, isn't it? People from poor nations migrating to El Salvador, not just campesinos but also people that were discontent with what they earned on their countries exercising their professions (just to change jobs once they found they couldn't exactly exercise their professions). The reason they migrate? Because their nations are even worse than El Salvador's situation. Makes me feel sympathetic towards them, because seeing how El Salvador's labor force choose to migrate to the city or US instead of coping with near starvation thanks to the country's pathetic wages, but those people just decide to settle with this... which may be far better than with what they had.It's all the government's fault (not the remittances), for not increasing wages, and placing too much attention in a single city and not placing any incentives for people to work on the rural areas.

Tim said...

It is incredibly ironic. I don't have much sympathy for growers, who have not increased wages in 7 years above starvation levels, who can't attract local workers with those wages. The situation makes you realize the depth of poverty in Honduras and Nicaragua. The bad situation in those countries allows growers to keep wages low by attracting the migrant workers. The only solutions are two which are not likely in El Salvador -- a living minimum wage law or unionization of farm workers.

Anonymous said...

This is the same situation in Canada. Canadians do not want to work in the fields and the wages are low. There are many workers from Mexico and they are treated like slaves, with few rights. They pay taxes but have no access to services. The owners say it is to save money, but food is very expensive still. It's part of the global situation.