Migrant’s Case Highlights Modern Slavery in Germany

Injured on the job, a Bulgarian migrant worker desperately needs surgery, but his official status as an independent contractor has allowed the companies involved to shirk responsibility. His case exposes a troubling gray area in Germany’s labor market.

Rusev is one of the so-called “pseudo self-employed” in the German labor market — one of tens of thousands who are formally registered as small business owners, but who in reality are modern slaves. He is stranded in Germany, lured there by the promise of prosperity, exploited by companies to do dirty work for starvation wages, and now abandoned because he can no longer perform as desired. The gray area of the laws governing Europe’s nomadic work force has no provisions for cases like Rusev’s.

Before Biser Rusev left to live his own German dream, he took his goats out every morning to graze in the fields of Vetovo, in northeastern Bulgaria. Rusev was a good goatherd, never losing a single animal. The livestock dealers were pleased with his work. They paid him with anise liqueur, potatoes or bread, only a few paid in cash. Rusev rarely left his village in northern Bulgaria, near the Danube River. He felt safe in Vetovo, never locked his door. Most of all, his work was in demand there.

Since Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, many Vetovo residents left for the West, most of them going to Germany. When they returned, they drove German cars, renovated their houses, bought land and wore gold around their wrists. “A lot of gold,” says Rusev. He became curious about this faraway country, this place where money grew on trees, at least according to the rumors coming from those returning to his village. That was in the late summer of 2011.Today, 18 months later, Rusev is lying in a decommissioned hospital bed in Room 35 of a hostel for the homeless near Ostpark, a park in Frankfurt, sorting out the wreckage of his life. His body is emaciated, there are dark rings around his eyes and his cheeks are sunken. The plaster is crumbling from the ceiling, fluorescent lights illuminate the cracked walls and trains rattle by outside. A blonde anchorwoman smiles from the TV set, but Rusev can’t understand what she is saying. This is the new world of a goatherd from Vetovo: eight square meters (86 square feet) of Germany, in a place next to a freight yard that represents the end of the line for the homeless.

He was working as a laborer and had no health insurance. For weeks, it has remained unclear who would pay for the surgery Rusev needed. The companies he was working for at the chemical plant didn’t even report the accident.

Read the full story here.

 

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