Exploitation and struggles of migrant agricultural workers in Germany

Extreme exploitation is not an exception, but it usually only becomes publicised when the workers fight back. The most famous case was the wildcat strike at the Ritter asparagus farm near Bonn in 2020. The well over 100 harvest workers were supported in their dispute by the FAU. The demonstrations and actions of the Romanian workers not only became a topic in the national media, the Romanian Minister of Labour Violeta Alexandru travelled to Bonn and Romanian media reported on the struggle of the migrant workers.

The public attention probably also contributed to the legal reappraisal of the exrem exploitation. In November 2023 Claus Ritter, who became known as the Bornheim Asparagus King, is jailed for three years. This was decided by the Bonn Regional Court on Monday. His wife also received a sentence, but it was suspended on probation. Claus Ritter was also convicted of fraud and making a false declaration in lieu of an oath. Together, the couple must pay back around 1.68 million euros, Claus Ritter must pay an additional 1.3 million euros alone, there is no right to appeal, the judgement is final. The proceedings against the daughter, who was initially a co-accused, were dropped against payment of 5,000 euros.

Very different was the outcome of a courtcase against a farmer, who held a romanian worker like a slave. The 39-year-old farmer from Plettenberg (North Rhine-Westphalia) put the Romanian labourer in chains, tied his hands, legs and neck – and imprisoned him for weeks. The 36-year-old was forced to work for weeks without pay. During the trial, the victim described how the farmer had threatened to shoot him and bury him in slurry. After six weeks, the worker finally managed to escape.

Without the pressure of a support campaign and public interest, the court did not show interest in a serious punishment. Legal experts had expected a sentence of at least five years in prison, but the Hagen Regional Court sentenced the farmer January 21st 2024 to a probation sentence of one year and ten months.