Italy's governing coalition parties have finally agreed to introducing changes to employment permits for migrants in the country. The four coalition parties hope the measures will benefit migrants as well as help sectors hit by the coronavirus.
A cabinet meeting to pass the final approval of the decree is expected to take place as early as later on Wednesday. It will to allow temporary work permits to be issued to migrants to work at farms and as carers.
The draft law had been ready for approval for at least a week following several weeks of negotiations. But it kept getting delayed amid growing disagreement between Italy’s four governing coalition parties.
Exploitation at the heart of the issue
Three of the four parties in the governing coalition, the Democratic Party (PD), Italia Viva (IV) and the Free and Equal Party (LeU), supported the scheme designed to support Italy’s agricultural sector in particular, which was hit by the COVID-19 epidemic due to a lack of access to cheap labor from abroad.
However, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement coalition
party expressed its opposition to the measure up until the last minute, arguing
that it would benefit exploitative employers who might, in the past, have
perpetuated illegal labor practices.
"The latest draft of the decree still includes an amnesty for those who admit to previous illegal employment practices," said 5-Star leader Vito Crimi on the weekend, insisting that this form of pardon would not be acceptable to his party.
Read more: Fears of mafia exploitation as Italy opens labor market to farm workersThe coalition parties in favor of the move meanwhile argued all along that such a temporary change in labor policy would actually help protect workers, especially foreigners, by giving them access to healthcare if they were to catch the novel coronavirus and actually help undocumented migrants from facing exploitation through illegal work. Human rights organizations meanwhile have criticized the fact that migrants were being viewed as mere commodities in the debate about the change in law.
Italian farmers have long raised an alarm, saying their crops could end up rotting in the ground if they could not attract additional foreign laborers for the harvest season. Under the current lockdown conditions and border closures across the EU, however, the prospect of importing laborers from Eastern Europe -- as normally is the case each spring in Italy -- was increasingly proving to be difficult.
Fierce political quarrelling
With a recession on the horizon, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's office announced yesterday already that various ministers had reached a deal on the migrant work permits but that they were still waiting for support from the 5-Star Movement, which had requested an extension.
The Democratic Party (PD) called the request “absurd,” with Italian Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova even threatening last week to resign if the proposal was rejected. Following the coalition agreement on the issue on Wednesday morning, Bellanova told RAI public radio that move was "a victory for the dignity of men and women and for the respect of people who have been living in great difficulty," adding that it would benefit hundreds of thousands of people in Italy.
Other senior politicians, however, believe that the legal changes cannot benefit the broad majority of migrants in the country.With the row now tentatively resolved, the Italian parliament hopes to move on to approving further details to a comprehensive stimulus package to the tune of 55 billion euros designed to jumpstart the country’s ailing economy.
Italy’s migration dillema
Italy remains divided on the issue of migration, as it has at times eclipsed Greece as the main country of arrival for migrants crossing Mediterranean waters.
Right-wing parties such the League Party have made immigration a key issue in recent years, advocating hardline policies to curb the influx of migrants coming to Italy from northern Africa.
Until August 2019, the 5-Star Movement was in a government coalition with former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini's League Party, which has been growing in popularity with tis anti-migrant stance since the onset of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015.After that coalition collapsed, the 5-Star Movement entered a new coalition with three centre-left parties, but has remained at odds with most liberal policies championed by its coalition partners.
Hard times in Italy
Italy is currently trying to address two major crises at the same time. The coronavirus has killed almost 31,000 people in Italy as of mid-May, 2020. It is the second-highest death toll in Europe, which the Italian government countered with a widespread lockdown. As an economic repercussion, the country could now face its worst recession since World War II.
At the same time, Italy is still trying to address the issue of dealing with more than 560,000 migrants living in the country without a work permit or residency papers, according to the Ismu Foundation think-tank.
With Reuters, dpa