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Danish farmers “exploiting foreign interns”

| Text: Marie Preisler

Danish farmers are using cheap labour from Vietnam, Uganda, Tanzania and India by using an agricultural intern programme. Trade unions have been critical to their working conditions and have secured continued oversight of the programme.

For many years, agriculture interns from Ukraine in particular have been working on Danish farms, but the war between Russia and Ukraine has put a stop to that. Today, the Danish agricultural sector recruits interns from as far away as Asia and Africa. 

70 per cent of the approximately 2,000 foreign agriculture interns who have residency and work permits for jobs on Danish farms now come from Vietnam, Uganda, Tanzania and India, according to figures produced by the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) on behalf of the United Federation of Danish Workers 3F. 

This worries 3F, which represents foreign agriculture interns among others. 3F believes they are easy to deceive because they do not know Denmark or Danish agriculture.

Karin Olsen“Many of them think that becoming an intern in Denmark is a ticket to see Europe. The further away individual interns come from, the easier they can be deceived by Danish employers and temping agencies,” Kari Olsen, education consultant at 3F, told the federation publication Fagbladet 3F.

74 kroner an hour

Fagbladet has published a range of examples of Danish farmers allowing interns from countries like Vietnam to live and work under conditions that do not meet the intentions of the intern programme. In 2023, most agriculture interns in Denmark came from Vietnam.

For decades, farmers and horticulturists have been able to hire foreign interns who are studying agriculture in their home countries. This programme has for many years been seen as a form of cultural exchange, but now many Danish farmers use it mainly to secure labour at a low hourly rate. 

An agriculture or horticulture intern can stay in an internship in Denmark for up to 18 months and should be paid according to the collective agreement covering the sector. That means the intern should be paid a minimum of 11,838 Danish kroner a month – around 74 kroner (€9.2) an hour – before tax. 

This is the minimum wage for the first six months. The next 12 months pay slightly more, but still less than a farmer would pay a normal non-intern worker. 

The Danish farmer is in turn responsible for providing the intern with knowledge of agricultural practices as well as reasonable working conditions and affordable housing. This is a duty not all farmers take seriously, however. 3F’s publication has found various examples of agriculture interns from Vietnam and other countries who have been exploited in terms of pay, housing and working hours.

According to 3F, several Vietnamese interns also said the sums they had to pay agents and recruitment agencies were so large that nearly all of their internship pay went on paying these companies to secure an internship with a Danishish farmer or horticulturalist.  

Training is lagging

A committee with representatives from the social partners is tasked with assessing whether a farm or nursery is fit to educate apprentices and foreign interns, and how many apprentices and interns each farmer or horticulturalist has the capacity to train. 

In early 2024, this part of the agriculture internship program was close to being axed. SIRI had announced that farmers would soon be able to hire as many foreign agriculture interns as they pleased, without the committee having to assess the farmers’ suitability. This caused protests from the social partners and SIRI has since announced that the rules will not be changed after all.

The fact that the training of foreign agriculture interns is lagging in some places is also recognised by SEGES Innovation, an agriculture research and innovation company that also advises farmers. In a guide for farmers about agriculture intern programmes, SEGES Innovation writes that “many farms have welcomed interns over the years, but when the busy everyday takes over, it can be difficult to meet the educational requirements outlined in the contract they have signed.”

Avoiding workplace accidents

The farmer must remember that the intern is in education in their home country and is entitled to gain relevant experience from their stay with the Danish employer, writes SEGES Innovation.

“It is important that you help the intern gain relevant professional experience from their internship in Denmark, and that the intern is not left to carry out repetitive tasks on their own for longer periods of time with no feedback or opportunity for professional development.”

SEGES Innovation also reminds farmer that they must prevent workplace accidents by taking the safety of their interns seriously.

Agriculture is among the top industries with the highest number of workplace accidents, including fatal ones. Between 2017 and 2022 there were 33 fatal accidents in agriculture and forestry. The accidents typically happen when handling cattle and when working with large machinery.

As a result, a multi-year comprehensive effort has been launched to prevent workplace accidents in agriculture and forestry. An expert group has begun analysing the causes of the latest fatal agriculture accidents and will provide the sector with knowledge on how to prevent such accidents in the future.  

This is the first part of a major politically decided action plan against workplace accidents in Denmark. It was launched in 2023 and focuses on the most dangerous sectors.


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