Italy’s temporary papers for migrant workers met with strikes

AFTER weeks of debate, the Italian government came to a decision last week to grant temporary six-month residency to undocumented migrant workers in the agricultural and domestic sectors. However, the proposal has been met with strikes by migrants who see the move as an economic strategy rather than a bid for human rights.

Under coronavirus lockdown, the agricultural industry has been struggling as the 370,000 seasonal workers who usually arrive in Italy for the spring harvest were blocked from entering the country. 

To avoid crops rotting in the fields, the government introduced measures in April which permitted migrants to work in the agricultural industry. This caused concerns that these undocumented workers would become the focus of Mafia exploitation, in a system known as “caporalato.” This system sees migrants working illegally on farms for long hours and low wages, below the national minimum. 

As such, the government made the decision to grant six-month work permits to migrants in the agricultural and domestic sectors. 

While the Minister for Agriculture, Teresa Bellanova, praised the move in an emotional speech, saying, “the invisibles will be less invisible, the exploited will be able to have a work permit,” NGO groups and migrant unions see the move as motivated by economic concerns rather than human rights. 

As ActionAid commented, “[it] puts market interests before the rights and lives of foreign citizens.”

On Thursday, migrants working in Italy’s fields went on strike. Farmworkers’ union, Unione sindacale di base (USB) Lavoro Agricolo, criticized the government’s regularization of workers as ”for the mere benefit of the market rather than to guarantee their right to a life.”

In a video on Facebook, Italian-Ivorian union activist Aboubakar Soumahoro said, ”As a farmhand, I know what it means to work hard for over 12 hours for a mere salary of 20 euros a day.” He criticized the fact that the legalization only applies to certain sectors. 

Soumahoro announced that farmworkers would lay down their tools on Thursday and stop picking fruit and vegetables for the day in protest. 

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Written by

Rebecca Ann Hughes

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