A 30 year old Malian migrant worker has likely died in Italy last week in the tomato fields of Rignano Garganico near Foggia. He lived in a slum known as the Ghetto, where approximately 2000 migrants are housed. Authorities have not been able to find his body and suspect gangsters may have concealed it. If the casualty is confirmed, the death toll from agricultural slavery in Italian fields would rise to four in the last 40 days. Workers Zakaria Ben Hassine, Abdullah Mohamed and Paola Clemente were two migrant men and an Italian woman in their fifties who shared a tragic fate: they died working under a scorching sun while collecting grapes and carrying crates of tomatoes. Their deaths were caused by inhumane working conditions, made up of endless shifts paid 2 to 3 euros per hour.
This is how the “caporalato system” runs its business in the Italian agricultural sector. Time and time again, EFFAT member organisations FLAI-CGIL, FAI-CISL and UILA-Uil and NGOs have denounced the deplorable housing and working conditions of migrant workers in Italy. Yet institutions have only recently taken action.
On 1 September, thanks to EFFAT affiliates' ongoing efforts, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture launched the Italian network for dignified agricultural work, an independent body created to combat irregularities and undeclared work in the agri-food business. Only companies compliant with social security and tax contributions without pending criminal proceedings or administrative sanctions for violations of labour laws can join the network, which will be coordinated by a body composed of workers’ representatives, employers and institutions.
On 27 August, FLAI, FAI and UILA, employers’ associations and ministries took part in an important meeting to pave the way towards a long-term strategy against slavery and gangmasters.
Commenting on the recent developments, EFFAT General Secretary Harald Wiedenhofer said that “national governments and EU institutions are well aware of the deplorable working and housing conditions that migrant and local workers face in the hot fields of southern Italy and in other European regions. It is unacceptable that no action has been taken yet. We need stricter control and more effective sanctions. Multinational companies and big retailers who fix the prices need to engage in a constructive dialogue with trade unions and national governments. If the price paid to farmers is low, pressure on working conditions and wages increases. If we want to fight against gangmasters and undeclared work, we must also make appropriate steps to establish fair relations in the food supply chain".
In light of the critical situation faced by farm workers in the South of Italy, EFFAT calls for an expeditious transposition of the Seasonal Workers' Directive into all European countries. If properly transposed, the provisions contained in the Directive will ensure fundamental rights for third country seasonal workers, as well as equal treatment and access to proper housing conditions.