Migrants disembark from the NGO-run search-and-rescue ship Sea Watch in Messina, Italy, 27 February 2020. | Photo: ANSA/CARMELO IMBESI
Migrants disembark from the NGO-run search-and-rescue ship Sea Watch in Messina, Italy, 27 February 2020. | Photo: ANSA/CARMELO IMBESI

After numerous appeals from union organizations, MPs, and even members of the government, Italy is considering legalizing migrant workers, but the opposition is criticizing the possibility.

Italy may soon have a draft law that legalizes foreign workers -- a move pressed by the minister of agriculture, Teresa Bellanova. It is aimed at farmworkers who have been thrown into crisis by the coronavirus emergency. 

The Democratic Party (PD) is in favour. On Saturday the minister for the South, Giuseppe Provenzano, also called for including home carers and domestic workers in the measure. Interior minister Luciana Lamorgese has also expressed openness to the idea. 

There are doubts, however, on the part of the 5-Star Movement (M5S). The opposition is barricading the idea, starting with League leader Matteo Salvini, who called the idea a "maxi-amnesty for 600,000 illegals to work in the fields." 

Last December, the government had already committed to an agenda of evaluating the possibility of legalizing foreigners with a work contract through the payment of a one-time sum. 

Lamorgese had told the Lower House that the measure would be weighed "in the framework of an overall revisitation of various measures involving migratory policy and the condition of foreigners in Italy." 

Severe labor shortage 

Coronavirus has now thrown into crisis thousands of foreigners who were working without a regular contract in the fields or with families. Sector associations such as Italian farmers' group Coldiretti report a severe labour shortage in the fields, with harvests left to rot. 

The health situation is at risk in farmworker "ghettos" from Borgo Mezzanone (Foggia) to San Ferdinando (Vibo Valentia). 

Headway was therefore made in the government regarding the possibility of a measure that would legalize workers (in past years, center-right governments had also done so), in this emergency phase limited to specific categories of workers, such as those in the agricultural production chain, without involving all irregular workers.

The measure would have precise provisions blocking those with a criminal record. 

In so doing, the numbers would be significantly lower than that of the 600,000 figure being circulated. 

In essence, a foreigner who presents a regular employment contract would receive a stay permit that could be renewed with subsequent contracts. 

'The state must help invisible workers'

Bellanova told the Italian Senate last week that there are "workers, invisible to most, who live in informal settlements, underpaid, who already work in Italy at the mercy of those criminals that we call 'caporalato gangmasters', which for me means mafia."

"Without ideological uproar or hypocrisy, either the state takes charge of the lives of these people, or organized crime will exploit them," Bellanova said. 

Thus far, labour minister Nunzia Catalfo of M5S, who would be most directly involved in the measure, hasn't shown an openness to it. 

However, Provenzano of PD is in favour of "legalizing those who work and who allow food to reach our tables, including in these very difficult days", adding that he also included home carers and domestic workers in his reasoning. 

Unions are also favourable. In a letter to the government and parliament, they said there would be a "strong economic and social advantage for the entire collective, in addition to an act of justice and equity." 

The letter said that at the same time, the measure would "protect public health and hygiene and be able to reduce the risk of exposure to infection for these workers and for other citizens."

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