President of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) has expressed outrage at Estonian strawberry farmers who, instead of hiring Estonians, want to hire foreign labor at cheaper prices, daily Postimees writes.
According to the daily, there have long since been issues with strawberry picking, as there are few such workers in Estonia. Companies want to use foreign labor on their fields, otherwise most of the crop will not be harvested. Põlluaas is unwilling to agree with this at all and believes that strawberry pickers are underpaid, which is why there are no people willing to do this difficult work.
"How did Estonians manage to pick strawberries a few years ago when there were no Ukrainians yet?" he wrote on social media. "They managed very well. Great! Today, however, there is allegedly such helplessness and incompetence that nothing can be done anymore and the only way out is foreign labor. Not true! Cultivating such lies and inciting hysteria is extremely irresponsible. Especially in the current crisis, when we have 50,000 unemployed and the figure is growing.
"Maybe those behind the great outcry could look in the mirror and honestly admit that the time for a business model built on cheap slave labor is over," he continued. "It is your choice whether to close your doors or start offering people normal pay and working conditions. Estonians do not want to live together in bunk beds in one room and work 12-hour shifts without days off. Estonia is not an underdeveloped country of cheap labor. We are a European country where people also deserve a decent wage for their work."
Põlluaas acknowledged that strawberry farmers exist who offer normal working conditions.
"For those who are flexible, and offer normal conditions and wages, there is a line of employees at the door and it is possible to choose the best and most professional employees from among them," he said. "A number of new state support measures have also been set up to support these producers. However, if one keeps on whining, squirming and blaming the government for everything, it is worth remembering that the economy does not tolerate a vacuum. Others will come to take your place — those who are already doing great without Ukrainians.
An Estonian employee, Põlluaas added, is the best choice at any time and in any field.
Reform MP: Põlluaas insulting hardworking people
Reform Party MP and deputy chairman of the Rural Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Urmas Kruuse (Reform) called Põlluaas' opinion on strawberry farmers insulting of hardworking people.
"That [the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE)] is indiscriminately insulting the people of Estonia should no longer be a surprise, but in my opinion, their taunting of farmers has crossed the line," said Kruuse, who served as minister of rural affairs from 2015-2016. "First, hardworking people are insulted by Henn Põlluaas, who is the second man in the country by office and should represent every one of us. Instead, the leader of the Riigikogu says to farmers hit by a serious concern that if EKRE's policy doesn't suit them, it's time to close up shop."
According to the MP, the problem that farmers are currently being attacked for was generated by EKRE itself.
"Where other countries of Europe are thinking about how more seasonal workers could be brought in safely so that crops don't go unharvested, Estonia is acting the other way around," he said. "The people who think differently get a scolding from politicians as a bonus. It seems that the dream of [Mart and Martin Helme] of a closed and autocratic Estonia where they can issue commands for the unemployed to go harvest strawberries and for schoolchildren to go harvest potatoes is about to come true."
Editor: Aili Vahtla