Some grave events happened last summer in Piedmont, one of the wealthiest Regions of Italy. Ioan Puscasu, a Romanian seasonal worker aged 46, died of a stroke caused by overworking under a hot greenhouse last July in Carmagnola, near Turin. One month later, journalist Riccardo Coletti received threats following his reports about the intolerable conditions endured by migrant workers during the prestigious Moscato grape harvest in Canelli, a small town close to Asti.
In Italy, seasonal rural workers are severely exploited by the criminal organizations that control the illegal hiring of workers, most of them being immigrants, both legal and illegal. Migrant workers’ rights are violated in a wide range of offences relating to the equality of treatment, remuneration, social security, working hours, conditions of work, as well as decent accommodation. Violations can go as far as human trafficking and forced labour. This is a major structural problem affecting the south of Italy, to the point that a specific Italian word has appeared to describe the phenomenon: “caporalato”. Nevertheless, little is known about the same issue in some areas in the north of Italy, as in the case of the apple harvest in Trentino and the grape harvest in Piedmont.
“Tackling the problem requires measures at different levels — legal, administrative and cultural”, said Alberto Tomasso, the Piedmont Secretary-General of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL). This Union has been deeply engaged in the struggle against the “caporalato”, asking for instance the “caporalato” to be recognised as a crime. This was a remarkable step for Italy, where a new offence of “illegal organization and labour exploitation” was introduced in 2011, under the Criminal Code article 603-bis. Moreover, a draft bill was approved by the Council of the Ministers on 13 November 2015 to deal with “caporalato” and illegal employment in agriculture.
At an International level, migrant workers’ rights are protected by the International Labour Organization conventions 97 and 143 and the related recommendations 86 and 151. Both conventions were ratified by Italy, which despite its efforts has still to reply to the 2013 ILO Committee of the Experts. One of the observations of the ILO Committee is referred to the application of the European Directive 2009/52/EC “providing for minimum standards on sanctions and measures against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals”. This is one of the main issues highlighted by Lorenzo Trucco, President of the Italian Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), considered so serious that the ASGI filed a complaint to the European Commission, reporting several violations with respect to the above-mentioned EU Directive implementation. As Mr. Trucco underlined “human trafficking and exploitation of rural workers reflect a complex reality for victims, whose vulnerability often makes these offences difficult to prove”.
At a regional level, members of the Government of Piedmont in charge of Agriculture, Giorgio Ferrero, and Labour &VET, Gianna Pentenero, have recently set up a steering committee composed by the Regional Government and institutions such as the National Institute for Social Security (INPS), the Labour Inspectorate, the National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work (INAIL). Moreover, the Piedmont Region launched two pilot projects, the first for the creation of agricultural worker registers to match offer and demand, the second to enhance worker skills by means of training courses. “We want to restore dignity to the workers — said Ms Pentenero — and this is only possible by deploying every appropriate means to ensure transparency and legality”.