From file: Farmhands at work, June 14, 2019. | Photo: ANSA/ QUOTIDIANO DEL SUD
From file: Farmhands at work, June 14, 2019. | Photo: ANSA/ QUOTIDIANO DEL SUD

The trade union branch in Italy's region of Campania has warned that there is a serious risk of collapse of the country's agricultural sector unless migrant farmhands are issued working papers and provided with support from the government.

Regional branches of Italy's large trade union confederation have called for support for migrant workers in the agricultural sector, warning that otherwise there is a risk of total collapse amid the restrictions brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The chiefs of the CGIL and FLAI CGIL branches in Italy's southern Campania region on Wednesday asked for the opening of 'green' corridors within and between regions as well as within the EU for migrant workers with papers, special stay permits for work reasons for all foreigners lacking them that find work in the agricultural sector, and the overcoming of regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles preventing or limiting work for those requesting international protection. 

The union leaders, Nicola Ricci and Giuseppe Carotenuto, have urged Campania regional governor Vincenzo De Luca for the government to intervene to save the regional agricultural sector. 

'Very real risk of collapse of sector' 

The trade union leaders wrote in a statement that "also this year we have seen a severe lack of manpower in the sector due to the public health emergency linked to COVID-19. Compared with the previous years, this year there is a real risk of collapse of the sector, since over 30% of seasonal workers are migrants from the EU and outside of it." 

They went on to say that "agricultural activities, exempted from the suspension ordered by the government, may thus be paralysed. And without crops, the entire food production chain will be halted and will put over 35,000 jobs in our region at risk." 

The union leaders stressed that though discussion continues on vouchers in agriculture, the real problem is the availability of seasonal farm workers. 

"Our proposals," they wrote, "would help protect the health of tens of thousands of people and thus the entire population. These workers must also be provided with suitable temporary housing. The COVID-19 emergency should not turn into a catastrophe for agriculture or a huge opportunity for organised crime, exploitation and underground work not subject to any sort of health and hygiene monitoring." 

Minister vows to step up measures against COVID-19 

On the issue of migrant farmhands, Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova said Wednesday that "measures are underway to improve protection of the health of migrants living in informal settlements in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19." 

She added that "over 346,000 foreigners from 155 countries are working in Italy's agricultural sector that, with over 30 million days worked, account for 26.2% of the total work necessary in Italian fields. And almost half the foreigners working in agriculture are doing so in 15 provinces. In agricultural districts, immigrant workers are thus a well-integrated part of the economic and social landscape. I think, however, that more courageous and incisive directions are required in order to support the primary sector."

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