« Refugeeization » of Agricultural Workforce in Switzerland?

Sarah Schilliger & Meret Barfuss, Université de Basel

In Swiss horticulture sector, migrant labour force has increased in the last decade due to profound structural changes towards an agro-industrial mode of production. Especially during the harvest season, flexible and low-cost labour is recruited. This recruitment is organized both via institutional and informal channels and shows a great variety with respect to the workers’ origins and their citizenship status. Due to new migration restrictions in the aftermath of the so-called “Masseneinwanderungsinitiative” (voted on February 2014), an ethnic recomposition of the migrant labour force in Swiss agricultural sector is currently taking place, resulting in a harder competition between migrant workers. In spring 2015, the Swiss authorities together with the Swiss Farmers Association started a program called “Pilotprojekt: Flüchtlinge als Arbeitskräfte in der Landwirtschaft” (Pilot project: Refugees as workforce in agriculture). The aim is to use existing workforce in Switzerland (“Inländerpotential”, priority clause to employ people still living in Switzerland) in order to avoid recruitment from abroad (note: refugees are seen as ‘Inländer’). Another aim is the integration of refugees into the labor market and in Swiss society in general. The pilot project with refugees has been glorified by the authorities as a win-win-win solution both for the state, the refugees and the employers. Linked to this, we ask in our presentation whether a ‘refugeeization’ of agricultural workforce is taking place (as observed in Italy, see Dines/Rigo 2015). Our research is based
on ethnographic field-work on Swiss farms which participate in this pilot project (with refugees mostly from Eritrea). Our research shows that the refugees experience hard conditions of work and life (long working hours, marginal leisure time for having a social life beside work, social isolation). We argue that the result of this pilot project is the very opposite of social integration (which can be called ‘seclusion’, see Perrotta/Sacchetto 2013).

Dines, Nick and Enrica Rigo (2015): Postcolonial Citizenships and the “Refugeeization” of the Workforce: Migrant Agricultural Labor in the Italian Mezzogirono. In: Ponzanesi, Sandra and Gianmaria Colpani (eds.): Postcolonial Transitions in Europe: Contexts, Practices and Politics. Lanham, MD: Rowmand and International.
Perrotta, Domenico and Devi Sacchetto (2014): Migrant farmworkers in Southern Italy: ghettoes, caporalato and collective action. In: International Journal on Strikes and Social Conflicts, Vol. I, Number 5.