Italy: New law combating severe labour exploitation finally entered into force
A new law tackling forms of severe labour exploitation in agriculture, of which most victims are migrants, entered into force on 4 November 2016. The new legislation extends to gang masters sanctions introduced for employers in 2011 in the Penal Code.
In both case harsher sanctions are applicable. As of now, anyone who (i) recruits labour force employed by third parties in conditions of severe exploitation or who (ii) employs labour force through illegal recruitment practices is punished with imprisonment from 1 to 6 years and a fine of 500-1000 EUR for each worker employed or recruited. If such forms of employment or recruitment happen through violence, threats or intimidation, imprisonment may last up to 8 years and fine may amount to up to 2000 EUR per worker exploited.
Besides punitive measures, the new law also sets up a framework of inter-institutional coordination, particularly between the Ministry of Labour and that of Agriculture, aimed at designing measures of support concerning living conditions of agricultural workers and innovative recruitment policies. In addition, it strengthen support to the Network of high-quality Agricultural Work established in 2015 to gather agricultural businesses that respect labour rights.
The new rules are aimed at addressing the Caporalato, a form of labour exploitation in the the agriculture sector which is accompanied by a lack of protection or a denial of fundamental rights and indecent living conditions. A substantial share of asylum seekers and refugees hosted in reception facilities in the south of Italy are believed to represent cheap labour force and often work in substandard, if not abusive, conditions; as it is the case for the Punjabi Sikh community nearby Rome, Macedonian or Bulgarian workers in the vineyards in Piedmont and Romanian women in Sicily. Although most victims are immigrants, both Eastern EU citizens and non-EU nationals, Italian workers, especially women, are also affected.
According to the latest figures provided by the Observatory Placido Rizzotto, around 400,000 workers are irregularly employed in the agricultural sector in Italy. Situations of exploitation have been detected in around 80 agricultural districts across Italy. Victims employed through the Caporalato system work between 8 and 12 hours a day, often with no rest day nor breaks and are usually seriously underpaid - 50% lower than the legal salary - or even paid on piecework, a totally illegal practice. 60% of them do not have access to clean water nor sanitation services. Deaths of migrant labourers due to these conditions have also occurred.