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Italy: New agreement to tackle severe migrant labour exploitation in agriculture

On 27 May 2016, the Ministries of Interior, Labour and Agriculture and Forestry jointly signed an inter-institutional agreement aimed at designing and developing new actions to tackle severe labour exploitation in the agricultural sector, largely affecting migrant workers. The agreement also involved major trade unions, regional authorities and NGOs as co-signatories and partners.

Over the past few years, labour exploitation and underground employment of migrant workers in the Italian agricultural sector has become a major topic of discussion. Several reports from trade unions (particularly FLAI-CGIL) and civil society organisations, such as Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International, have repeatedly documented violations of basic human and labour rights suffered by agricultural labourers in Italy, a large proportion of whom are migrant workers.

Migrant workers often encounter below-minimum pay, work hours that exceed 12-15 hours per day, recruitment through gang masters and sub-standard living conditions. Occasionally, such unbearable living and working conditions have caused deaths of migrant labourers, which are often covered up by criminal networks managing the labour supply chain. In areas with a high concentration of migrant workers, such as in Rignano Garganico in Apulia, many of the workers live in informal dwellings and shanty towns, with no access to electricity, the sewage system or fresh water.

The new agreement signed by the ministries and social parties aims to address these issues by designing and implementing measures to counter rights violations and to improve access to decent livelihoods and dwellings. Among the main actions foreseen are information and employment orientation services provided through travelling units that can reach even the most isolated sites, pilot projects to renovate and equip abandoned buildings to host seasonal workers, free distribution of food and water in fields and mobile healthcare units to provide free emergency care and information on care services. The measures would be designed and developed through local steering committees hosted by the Prefetture in each region and carried out by government authorities in the areas most affected by agricultural labour exploitation, in close partnership with trade unions and NGOs active in assistance to agricultural labourers.

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