A Carabinieri operation against gang-masters in Foggia | Photo: ANSA/CARABINIERI
A Carabinieri operation against gang-masters in Foggia | Photo: ANSA/CARABINIERI

Italian Labor Minister Andrea Orlando has warned against the risk of a new form of exploitation of migrant farmworkers in Italy, a "digital gang-master system." He reiterated that the government is committed to fight the exploitation of foreign workers in the agricultural sector.

The new gig economy is affecting agriculture with the creation of "digital gang-masters", Labor Minister Andrea Orlando said on Wednesday, February 2.

He said the technology used to organize housing and transport for temporary workers through algorithms is actually hiding phenomena that are very similar to the traditional gang-master system of exploitation.

The minister was speaking at a conference on 'Quality of work in agriculture' organized by the National Council of Economy and Labor (CNEL), also attended by Agriculture Minister Stefano Patuanelli.

"Making the gang-master useless is the best strategy to adopt," said Orlando, adding that logistics are key for workers in the sector. Services should be provided through joint public and private efforts, he said.

A map of foreign workers in agriculture

In order to fight the gang-master system, the ministry of labor and the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) have mapped the presence of foreign workers in the agricultural sector who live in both formal or informal settings.

A total of 3,833 municipalities responded, including 38 that had this type of settlement, the minister said.

This endeavor was the precondition to use €200 million of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) dedicated to eliminating the so-called 'ghettos' -- the informal settlements with precarious living conditions.

Meanwhile controls to detect forms of exploitation continue. In 2021, Italian social security agency INPS discovered 70,000 fictitious labor contracts, especially in agriculture, involving people who "hadn't even seen a field".

"Illegal and fictitious labor are two faces of the same medal," said the president of INPS, Pasquale Tridico. He added: "We pay non-EU citizens two euros an hour and we guarantee to Italian women and men social security, unemployment benefits for the agricultural sector, sick leave and a pension. It isn't just a morally unacceptable issue, it is inhuman."

The fight for legal work

Another important tassel to fight illegal work is the fact that the EU's common agricultural policy binds access to EU funds to the respect of legislation regarding health, security and work relations.

It is an absolute novelty to be introduced by 2025, with Italy already working to ensure its implementation starting in 2023, said Agriculture Minister Stefano Patuanelli.

He stressed that the government's 'Tavolo caporalato' aimed at defining a national strategy to prevent and fight the phenomenon "is certainly the privileged place to define and share the most effective strategies."

'Clear and transparent'

The conference organized by CNEL also hosted the presentation of a research carried out by the Institute of Services for the Agricultural Food Market (ISMEA) analyzing the costs of production in the central Lazio region regarding three types of farming.

"Fighting for the legality of work and helping honest agricultural companies also means being clear and transparent," said Lazio Governor Nicola Zingaretti.

"If a product is too cheap, either there is labor exploitation or poor quality."

Giovanni Mininni, the secretary general of the FLAI-CGIL trade union -- representing agricultural workers and part of Italy's largest umbrella union CGIL -- said "it is necessary to give answers by eradicating the gang-master system and exploitation."

"Only in this way will we defend our clean and ethical economy," he said.


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