Not so long ago the idea that people would travel all the way from Thailand to Finland to work for a few months picking berries, then return home, would have seemed like science fiction. The distances are so great, and cost of travelling so great. However in today’s globalised society, it isn’t even considered unusual any more. The Thais earn well here by Thai standards, and Finnish employers get cheap labour to do backbreaking work which Finns don’t want to do (at least, not on those wages). So, a win-win situation?
In Britain Brexit has created a real crisis in this field of work. Companies can no longer employ cheap East European labour due to restrictions on visas and work permits, and Brits won’t do such hard, low-paid work, so there arenät enough workers to pick the berries or bring in the harvest. There is a similar problem with a lack of lorry drivers. The corona situation has made things even worse.
The root of the problem is surely that salaries are so low in some sectors. I once had two part-time jobs at the same time: I taught English to foreign students in the morning and worked in a shop in the evening. In the former job I was paid £24 per hour, and in the latter £3 per hour. Was teaching English really eight times more difficult / demanding / valuable to society than shop work? Do we want to live in a society in which the white-collar workers are white, and the blue-collar workers are dark-skinned, and/or of foreign origin? We seem to be heading in that direction.
So what is the solution? If salaries are raised, then prices would presumably have to be raised, too. Is it fair that the consumer should pay more for, eg, fresh berries? They are quite expensive already. Can technology solve the problem? Can machines do work that humans currently do? These are difficult matters and there no easy answers.
The Bible speaks out against mistreatment of workers, for example: Lev. 19:13, James 5:4, Deut. 24:14-15. Most importantly, there is the golden rule (Luke 6:31): ”As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” We all want to be paid suitably well for doing hard work.
I think we can be optimistic about this. Enormous strides have been made in the last hundred years or so to improve the lot of ordinary people. The poverty and exploitation of modern times cannot be compared with that of years ago. But still, much needs to be done. I hope to live one day in a society in which everyone earns a liveable wage, in which everyone, whatever their background, can prosper.