Foreign workers in Tuscany | Photo: ANSA/State Police
Foreign workers in Tuscany | Photo: ANSA/State Police

An investigation by Italian authorities uncovered a case of illegal gangmastering in Tuscany. Dozens of migrants were exploited as unregistered workers on construction sites.

An investigation by the Prato prosecutor's office led to the arrest of 10 people, who were taken into custody and sent jail on Tuesday. One suspect is still at large.

Investigators said the foreign workers were recruited as unregistered workers on construction sites and forced to work 12-hour shifts for five euros per hour without any days off, and sometimes without even a lunch break.

Those arrested include the alleged leaders of the operation: Calabrian businessman Vincenzo M., who owns the construction company Eurocostruzioni75 srl; and two Egyptian brothers, Said and Sabri M., who own the construction company Novaedil srl.

The alleged gangmasters were also arrested. They are accused of recruiting and supervising the workers, and taking a percentage for each hour worked by the men.

Vulnerable migrants targeted

The suspects have been charged with forming an association to commit a crime, illegal brokering, labor exploitation, facilitating illegal immigration, using unregistered migrant workers, and forgery of certificates.

The investigation, carried out by the Florence police in collaboration with colleagues in Prato and Pistoia, began after one of the alleged victims filed a report.

Two years ago, the man reported his employers to the CGIL union after not being paid for his work. The union then informed the authorities.

The suspects reportedly often employed foreigners without a stay permit "under the table." Workers who had a stay permit were given a contract, but the contract listed a much lower number of hours than those actually worked.

The workers were paid with reloadable prepaid Postepay cards.

No protective equipment on high-risk construction sites

The work was allegedly carried out without even the most basic safety precautions. Even at construction sites classified as high-risk, workers weren't provided with any protective equipment. The workers were given housing in an apartment in Quarrata, Pistoia, at a cost of 200 euros per month, subtracted from their salary.

Police said the workers were treated "like slaves and doormats," with never-ending shifts. In a wiretapped conversation, one of the suspects said, "The workers have to shut up -- they stay until seven, eight, ten, and until the work is done."  

The construction companies involved in the investigation also worked at sites for prestigious designer-label fashion brands. One of the workers interviewed by police said he had worked at a construction site for Giorgio Armani shops in Via Tornabuoni in Florence in the summer of 2018, and at three sites for Gucci facilities in Scandicci, Florence, without ever having being paid, except for a deposit.

 

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