European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions
Together for decent work and fair pay from farm to fork

EFFAT engages in battle with FLAI to say NO to underpayment and gang masters’ exploitation in agriculture

31/08/2017

A new week of Ancora in Campo (“Back in the field”) has just finished.  Ancora in Campo is the national campaign of the FLAI CGIL (Federazione Lavoratori Agroindustria – Federation of Farming Industry Workers, Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro – General Italian Labour Federation) which, from 10 July to 10 September brings together militants and trade unionists from all over Italy to fight against underpayment and exploitation by caporali (gang masters).

The primary objective of this campaign is to meet the labourers involved in the various sowing and harvesting campaigns in the territories of southern Italy in order to inform them directly about their rights, the respect of contracts and wages and the new opportunities offered by Italian Law 199 of 2016 on caporalato (exploitation by illegal intermediaries or gang masters), which is beginning to bear fruit thanks mainly to arrests and measures decreed by the judicial authorities in the last few weeks. The campaign therefore involves capillary actions in the fields, squares and ghettos, where workers are often “recruited” by caporali.

Last week, some members of the secretariat of the EFFAT actually went into the fields, joining forces with one of the many “Labour Brigades” composed of employees and militants of the FLAI who, during this very hot summer, are doing sterling work in “trade union activity on the street”, thereby contributing to achieving the objectives of the campaign. 

The Labour Brigade patrolled the countryside of Apulia from the break of day to meet large numbers of labourers, bringing them water and straw hats and, above all, enhancing their awareness of their rights and the role of the trade union.

During their action in the fields, the EFFAT and the militants of the FLAI discovered cases of underpaying, irregular contracts and the total absence of the minimum rules of labour safety and security.  These inhuman conditions include 14 to 16 hour working days paid on average two or three euros an hour and imposed by a criminal network made up of caporali , intermediaries and companies that are often accomplices of the organised crime that governs the agricultural market of southern Italy.

During the afternoons of the Ancora in campo week, the team visited some of the very numerous ghettos where thousands of immigrant workers live in the shadow of the gang masters system, in degrading conditions of hygiene and sanitation.  In these places, where the State is a mere illusion, the Labour Brigades carry out important work by monitoring and raising awareness, with the objective of accompanying many migrants, who have often come to Europe only a few weeks earlier, to a path that can lead to claiming better wages and decent living and working conditions.

The EFFAT has given wide support to its Italian affiliates who contributed decisively to the adoption of the law against the caporalato last year. Their commitment is fundamental but must necessarily be accompanied by a clear political will and an extraordinary institutional effort in order to put a definite end to these forms of post-modern slavery that are the shame of the whole of Europe.

It remains urgent for the institutions to ensure full application of that part of the law on the caporalato that, by means of preventative and positive measures, offers opportunities for workers and honest businesses, from transport to placement, for the meeting between labour supply and demand, as foreseen by the rules that have led to the establishment of a “quality agricultural labour network”.

At the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy in 2017, the EFFAT will continue to promote a proposal that will replace labour and social standards at the heart of the political debate and of the criteria determining the allocation of European funds to agricultural producers. It is also essential to ensure the modernisation of the EEC Written Declarations Directive no. 533 of 1991 which grants workers the right to receive, at the beginning of a new employment relationship, written notice on certain essential aspects of their work. 

The EFFAT reiterates its commitment to present the demands of the Labour Brigades in Brussels, thereby continuing the dialogue with the institutions on best legislative and contractual practices as implemented for rightful employment in farming, so that the problem of opposing the caporalato and undeclared/irregular labour in farming does not remain simply a typically Italian battle, but becomes a European combat.  

You can find information on Ancora in campo here and on social media: #Ancoraincampo

EFFAT is the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions. As a European Trade Union Federation representing 120 national trade unions from 35 European countries, EFFAT defends the interests of more than 22 million workers towards the European Institutions, European employers’ associations and transnational companies. EFFAT is a member of the ETUC and the European regional organisation of the IUF.