A foreign worker picks tomatoes in an area between Lesina and San Nazario in the province of Foggia, May 7, 2020 | ANSA/FRANCO CAUTILLO
A foreign worker picks tomatoes in an area between Lesina and San Nazario in the province of Foggia, May 7, 2020 | ANSA/FRANCO CAUTILLO

Italian agriculture minister Teresa Bellanova has expressed concern for the security of foreign seasonal workers who travel from "red areas" affected by the coronavirus pandemic to Italy via so-called green corridors allowing them to fly in to help pick the country's ripening crops.

Guaranteeing the security of foreign seasonal workers who travel to Italy from countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic and of other workers and Italian companies is a major concern, Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova said on May 27.

Bellanova was discussing so-called green corridors allowing seasonal workers to fly to Italy to help pick crops during an audition of the parliamentary Schengen committee. 

In particular, the minister explained the difficulties in implementing the measure especially for seasonal workers from North Africa and East Europe where "the virus is present like in Italy," she said.

"We have told 60 million of Italian citizens to stay home in order to avoid contagion and we can now say that it is possible to come here from red areas without having all the means to start operating safely?", questioned Bellanova. 

If for the next harvests "it will be possible to bring in dozens and dozens of people by organizing charter flights, we will acknowledge it" but it is necessary to be able "to organize their presence in the territory, ensuring their health and that of companies and of the people working with them", she continued. 

Workers from Morocco 

Talking about workers from Morocco, the agriculture minister said that an additional flight will probably be organized in the coming days for an unspecified number of seasonal farmhands, according to diplomatic sources. Bellanova said "a few hundred" workers could be flown in, a number that is "very far from covering the needs expressed by agricultural associations." 

So far, two flights -- on May 21 and 22 -- have taken to Italy 250 workers each who are currently employed by companies in the Abruzzo. 

Also, 40 foreign workers employed in the Lazio region were flown in with Italian nationals. 

Seasonal workers ready to be employed in June 

Bellanova also explained the mechanism to regularize undocumented migrant farmworkers, stressing that the procedure will be completed in time for the harvesting season and not in September, as alleged by critics. 

The government's 'relaunch decree' approved earlier this month provides for workers who apply for a permit starting on June 1 to be included in a list of unemployed workers and to receive a temporary permit. 

"The following day they can be legally employed in agriculture, provided there are employees who are interested in giving them a contract," she said. 

The objective is to ensure that people who are already working in Italy without documents can be regularized. 

"Some 346,000 workers from 155 different countries find employment" in Italy's agricultural sector, said the minister, covering 26.2% of the work necessary in Italy's agriculture with over 30 million working days. 

"More than half of foreigners are employed in 15 provinces," Bellanova also said. At the same time, "other workers who are invisible to the majority'' of people, "the so-called irregular" employees -- an estimated 600,000 -- "are living in informal settlements, underpaid and exploited often in an inhuman way," the minister said. 

These people are at the mercy of the companies they work for, "of that crime that we call the gang-master system and which means mafia to me."

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