Carabinieri carrying out checks on a field employing migrants in northern Italy | Photo: ARCHIVE/CREDIT/CARABINIERI PRESS OFFICE
Carabinieri carrying out checks on a field employing migrants in northern Italy | Photo: ARCHIVE/CREDIT/CARABINIERI PRESS OFFICE

Migrants exploited by their fellow countrymen in northern Italy were paid three euros per hour for 11-hour days to prune vines and harvest grapes, according to an investigation by carabinieri in Venice, Padua, and Rovigo. The probe led to four being placed under house arrest on Wednesday.

Four Moroccan nationals allegedly took 13 of their fellow countrymen to work in fields in northern Italy for up to 11 hours a day and paid them only 3 euros per hour. If the migrants protested, they were beaten. If they were injured, they nonetheless were forced to harvest vegetables and grapes, as well as prune vineyards. That's according to victim accounts gathered during investigations by police in the provinces of Venice, Rovigo, and Padua.

The four accused of labor exploitation were put under investigation. On Wednesday they were placed under house arrest on charges of criminal association for the purpose of exploiting undocumented labor. 

Two workers reported the exploitation 

The case was opened when two of the workers decided to tell of what was happening after understanding that they would never get official working papers and a permit to stay, no matter how long they worked for those exploiting them. The carabinieri, who then began to investigate, called the operation ''Miraggio'', or ''Mirage''. The probe began with monitoring the illegal activity of an agricultural firm in Cavarzare that was legally registered with the Venice Chamber of Commerce. 

After the prosecutor's office ordered the owner to cease activities, he then transferred the activity to Montagnana, Tribano, Arre, and Conselve in the Padua area as well as San Martino di Venezze in the Rovigo province, putting the new firm under his wife's name. Three others who have also been placed under investigation were tasked with paying the ''stipends'', taking the migrants to the fields and following them. The workers were forced to live in an unhygienic environment that did not meet minimum safety standards. 

From the accounts gathered from the victims during the investigation between 2018 and 2019, it became clear that the 13 Moroccan workers were treated as if they had no rights whatsoever. Those who rebelled were beaten, several to the point of needing to be taken to the emergency room for treatment. Others who suffered workplace accidents were forced to return to the fields the following day, even if they were wearing casts and had bruises over their bodies. 

Most of the workers did not have the courage to speak out about the abuse because they hoped to obtain much-coveted official stay permits. Many of those in the group were undocumented, with the sole exception of the two workers who reported the exploitation. 

Stay permits granted to those who reported the abuse 

Those who filed a report with the police have received a stay permit as part of the ''Nave'' project in Venice, an association that provides support to foreigners and undocumented workers. The carabinieri are looking into the positions of the Italian landowners that used the services of the firm, which clearly offered very low labor costs for vegetable and grape harvesting. Turnover has been calculated at 350,000 euros for year. 

The mayor of Padua, Sergio Giordani, thanked the carabinieri and the magistrates involved in the case, noting that ''we must stay aware and be vigilant'' concerning exploitative labor practices.

More articles