FRUSAN: checking the plums for blemishes, cracks, ripeness etc. Credit: Toby Adamson/Oxfam
In the fruit-picking sector, 75% of women work more than 60 hours a week in season, on temporary contracts.

Chilean fruit-picking workers’ story

Chile is proud of its status as one of the most open countries in the world. It has signed 47 free trade agreements, including one with the US. Chile has seen an overall growth in its economy but behind this success story, there are some heavy costs.

The additional money does not reach the poorest people – in fact, the agreements have thrown them further into poverty. Although there are more temporary jobs, the quality of these jobs is not high.

In the agricultural industry, Chile exports products such as grapes (for wine), fruit, and salmon. The profit from this business ends up in the pockets of transnational companies while the women who work the fields get paid below minimum wage and are denied their labor rights. The trade created in Chile has lined the pockets of big business and increased insecurity for millions of women workers.

Rosa Palleres works for a group of temporary women agricultural workers in Andacollo, Chile: She tells their story…

“Imagine it: a container of grapes sells for $200m, but where is the dollar for the worker here? We are paid miserably. There is a minimum wage but they don’t pay it for agricultural workers. If people in Europe knew what happened to the workers here… would (they) want our products?

"Supposedly the free trade agreements demand that the workers are ok, that they have rights. But we find that the Free Trade Agreements in Chile have not strengthened our rights at all. We are still getting poorer. The businessmen are richer, and the workers are poorer, in every sense of the word: economically, spiritually, morally; we are degraded in every way.”

In the fruit-picking sector, 75% of women work more than 60 hours a week in season, on temporary contracts, and a third of them do not earn even the minimum wage. Half these women have no contract, and therefore there is no welfare system to support them if they fall sick.

“An agricultural laborer doesn’t take holidays, because she would be fired immediately, and would have to go elsewhere, and would have no way of buying food to eat. The situation is very difficult. One sees lots of injustice, all over the country…I feel like I have lost out…

"We are all losing out, we don’t have transparency from the government. If things don’t change, all that remains for us workers is to be exploited while others skim off the cream."