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2 Apr 2021

Valentina Di Donato, Forbes

Italy: Agricultural migrant workers are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation & abuse amidst pandemic

"How The Pandemic Helped Gangmasters Exploit The Invisible Agricultural Workers Of Italy", 2 April 2021

...They are the estimated 180,000 agricultural workers in Italy that are being exploited for farm work. Often, they are migrant workers, their vulnerable position making them subject to gross exploitation, sexual abuse, and violence according to a report on how Agro-mafia and gangmasters are exploiting workers produced by Placido Rizzoto and FLAI-CGIL, one of Italy’s largest labor unions.

Italy’s agricultural laborers are known as “invisible workers,” Valeria from Francavilla, Calabria says. She has been in the fields for the past 20 years after she immigrated from Eastern Europe. Exploitation in the agricultural fields is not a new phenomenon, but conditions have become worse for these invisible workers due to decreased checks happening during the pandemic.

Jean-René Bilongo, Migrant Affairs and Inclusiveness Officer of the labor union FLAI-CGIL explains, “Things got worse with the coronavirus outbreak, people were forced to remain at home with the national lockdowns, and, if you are not on the field or checking the land, you cannot see what is going on or arrest the exploiters, the caporalato, or gangmasters, know this and things got worse for workers in agriculture because of it.”...

...Being an agricultural worker is seasonal, precarious, both physically and mentally exhausting and sometimes, life-threatening.

For agricultural laborers, not showing up means not getting paid, and despite the pandemic, workers had to show up, often working in environments that were not compliant to Covid-19 regulations, “This year, just like any other, we had to go to work to survive, but then we arrive in situations that were even more inhumane, with trucks crowded full of 10-15 people, people working without any distance, no hygiene, no protective gear, and you are forced to work in these conditions”, says Valeria...

Female migrant agricultural workers are considered to be at most risk to find themselves in a situation of isolation, segregation, and dependency on an employer...

But despite the visible atrocities, the fear of speaking out against the abuse and possibly losing work outweighs the need to seek justice...

Part of the following timelines

Italy: Fears grow for migrant farmworkers left without work & living in poor conditions amid COVID-19 crisis

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers across Europe at heightened risk of abuse & exploitation during second harvest season amid COVID-19