The exploited: 'You work so hard to end up earning hardly anything'

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The Independent US

All her life Francisca Cortes has been on the move.

The daughter of a migrant fruit-picker, and a fruit-picker herself from childhood, she and her family travelled with the seasons from southern Florida to North and South Carolina, following the tomato, watermelon and orange crops ripening in the subtropical climate.

Now, at 25, she works full-time for the small human rights organisation, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). She broadcasts nightly on a community radio show, telling migrants about their rights and news of the CIW's campaign against exploitation.

"There are very few women who work in the fields and the work is extremely hard," she says. "First, you have to get up quite early 4am, 5am cook your lunch, go out to try your best to find work. The workday starts at dawn or before, but you don't get to the fields until maybe 7am, and even then you have to wait two hours for the dew to dry on the fruit before you can start picking."

Always fearful of the arrival of La Migra (as the immigration officers are known) and instant deportation, they are compliant and hardworking. There are also hundreds of thousands of migrant children working as hired hands in dangerous conditions on America's farms. They put in 12-hour days for little pay.

The tomato-pickers in Immokalee (it rhymes with broccoli) get a little ticket that has a 45-cent value for every bucket picked, she explains. "You have to run and pick quickly, the most that you possibly can. You must be bent over all day long. It starts to get even more difficult as the heat rises and grows stronger at work.

"You must run to throw each bucket up to the truck. This part is particularly difficult for women, because it all has to be done at top speed because you can't lose any time. You have to suffer thirst and just keep on working, because if you stop to go to the bathroom or drink water every once in a while, that is lost time. You don't leave the fields until 6 or 7 at night.

"You have to walk home to your trailer, and get in line to shower and cook because you have to share a trailer with 11 to 12 people. By then it's 10pm, and you have to sleep a few hours before getting up early again. And that's the way it is, seven days a week, you have to work. And you work a great deal to end up earning hardly anything."

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