Italy has taken a crucial step to crack down on the widespread exploitation of farm workers through the “Caporalato system” (Gangmasters), a widespread phenomenon characterised by a lack of contractual protection, exploitative working hours, harsh treatment and deplorable housing and working conditions.
In the Italian agriculture sector, around 430,000 workers each year are being employed through illegal intermediaries (caporali), at least a quarter of which suffer severe exploitation. The vast majority of them are migrant workers from Africa, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, India and Pakistan.
Signing up to a “caporale” is often the only means of survival for a migrant worker who is then charged for access to work, transportation, accommodation, food, phone top ups and so on. Living conditions can be dire with workers living in abandoned buildings or slums, lacking basic services. Remuneration is between 22 and 30 euros for a 10-12 hour day - less than half the legal minimum.
Italy banned the Caporalato system in 2011. Lawmakers were then pushed to tighten regulations in the sector after several workers lost their lives on farms in the summer of 2015, and especially thanks to the huge pressure put forward by EFFAT member organisations, FLAI-CGIL, FAI-CISL and UILA –UIL who have always been at the frontline on this issue.
On 18 October the new bill against gang masters has finally been approved by the Italian Parliament. The new legislation introduces innovative measures to eradicate the phenomenon, including sanctions imposed on employers, arrests in case of flagrante delicto, land requisition, enhanced protections for the victims, organised labour inspections and an integrated approach to punish and eradicate exploitation.
EFFAT Italian member organisations FLAI, FAI and UILA have worked hard to achieve this extraordinary result that restores dignity to agricultural work and to those whose rights have been ignored and trampled upon in recent years. It is now crucial to monitor the correct implementation of this new legislation.
Harald Wiedenhofer, EFFAT General Secretary, commented on the new bill: “The gang masters phenomenon of caporalato is simply one of the ruthless European examples of modern slavery. Similar examples of exploitation unfortunately exist also in other parts of Europe. Adopting this bill creates effective tools to properly tackle the phenomenon and is a real answer for those who ask for rights, dignity, fair wages, and equal treatment. We hope this huge success can be of inspiration to eradicate all kinds of labour exploitation we are still witnessing in Europe”.