Farmworkers in a field | Photo: ANSA/Quotidiano Del Sud
Farmworkers in a field | Photo: ANSA/Quotidiano Del Sud

The labor exploitation of migrant farmworkers in Piana di Gioia Tauro, in Italy's southern region of Calabria, continues amid conditions aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, medical aid organization MEDU claims in a new report.

Labor exploitation and widespread illegal practices persist in Piana di Gioia Tauro, according to a report entitled 'The Pandemic of Rosarno," which recently released by Medici per i Diritti Umani (MEDU, or Doctors for Human Rights).

MEDU found that living and working conditions as well as the physical and mental health of foreign workers in the region have worsened recently. This, they said, was due to a lack of inspections and effective measures to counter illegal work practices, the growing precariousness of legal statuses following the enactment of security decrees in recent years, and -- most recently -- the COVID-19 pandemic.

The farming region is infamous for protests and riots by foreign farmworkers following an attack on a migrant over a decade ago. The town of Rosarno in particular is well-known in Italy for the January 2010 protests, where migrants chanted slogans such as "we are not animals."

Conditions for migrant workers got worse

MEDU has been operating in the region for seven years with a mobile clinic. During the citrus harvesting season, they provide basic medical assistance and orientation on workers' rights to the approximately 2,000 farmworkers in the shantytowns scattered between the municipalities of Rosarno, San Ferdinando, Drosi, and Taurianova.

Their new report looks at the conditions migrants lived in before the COVID-19 outbreak and afterwards, beginning with the lockdown measures in March. They found that the pandemic worsened the exclusion, marginalisation, and exploitation of farmhands in the area.

90% of migrants had stay permit

The report found that migrant farmworkers faced very poor living, working and hygiene conditions in Piana di Gioia Tauro. The organization said that they faced social marginalisation, stigmatization, housing insecurity, lack of electricity and toilets or washing facilities, lack of drinking water and heating in the shantytowns, inhumane working conditions, and poor diets lacking in nutrition.

MEDU said that 90% of the migrants they assisted had stay permits. Two-thirds were asylum seekers or had been granted international protection or other forms of protection, while 25% were in the process of renewing or converting their official humanitarian protection status.

"In reality, the first security decree [editor's note: the October 2018 decree also known as the Salvini decree] abolished humanitarian protection, which in previous years had been the most widely held stay permit by farmworkers, leaving few regularisation possibilities to the many workers who, due to widespread contractual irregularities in Italy (''grey work''), do not meet the requirements for the conversion of a stay permit into one for work. Furthermore, it is very likely that the recent amnesty for some categories of undocumented workers will not be able to be widely used in Piana di Gioia due to numerous, significant difficulties," MEDU stated.

'No political will against exploitation'

In their report, MEDU accused politicians of not doing enough to help migrant farmworkes. They said that there was a "lack of political will and of strategic planning to significantly affect the very serious phenomenon of exploitation of foreign workers in agriculture in the Piana di Gioia Tauro." They called for the adoption of immediate, long-term measures to counter farmworker exploitation and for the legalization of undocumented farmworkers.


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