Summary: European Court rules in favour of undocumented workers’ rights

Brussels, 31 March 2017: The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Greece has failed in its duty to protect migrant workers from labour exploitation, and must properly investigate their abuse and punish those responsible. Greece must now pay each applicant participating in the Court proceedings up to 16,000 euros in compensation. SRT grantees PICUM and the Greek Council for Refugees, and former grantee the AIRE Centre, provided joint legal analysis and assistance in the case.

The case arose from an incident in April 2013 where 150 people were shot at, and 30 severely injured, after they demanded their wages as agricultural workers in the strawberry fields in Manolada, Greece. Working 12-hour days under the watch of armed guards, the workers were not paid even the promised salary of 22 euros per day, for seven hours’ work, plus overtime. They lived in roughly built huts without toilets or running water.

While those that were seriously injured were granted temporary residence permits, the majority of the workers received nothing. Some were detained and deported.

Several of the workers took their case to a national court, which acquitted the employers and armed guards of human trafficking charges in 2014. The employers were found guilty of grievous bodily harm and unlawful use of firearms, but their only punishment was to pay the victims that took the case forward 43 euros each. The case was then brought to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

PICUM director Michele Levoy said, “We are very pleased that the Court has recognised the rights of all workers, and that governments have an obligation to prevent labour exploitation and provide justice to victims. Undocumented workers are exploited across Europe. They should be able to report abuse without fearing they will be arrested or deported, and be paid – at least – their due wages. A worker is a worker, regardless of residence status.”

Full statement from PICUM and the AIRE Centre:

Return to grantee stories