Amnesty: Address exploitation of migrant workers in Italy

Amnesty International has asked Italy to overhaul its policies which contribute to the exploitation of migrant labourers, violating their right to work in just and favourable conditions and their access to justice.

In a report titled “Exploited labour: Migrant workers in Italy’s agricultural sector”, Amnesty International focuses on the severe exploitation of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Asia, employed in low-skilled, often seasonal or temporary jobs, mostly in the agricultural sector in the southern areas of Latina and Caserta.

The report however, notes that labour exploitation of migrant workers is widespread across Italy.

“In the past decade the Italian authorities have been whipping up public anxiety alleging that the country’s security is threatened by an uncontrollable ‘clandestine’ migration thus justifying strict migration measures. These measures put migrant workers in a precarious legal situation making them easy prey for exploitation,” said Francesca Pizzutelli, researcher and author of the report. “While the authorities in any country are entitled to control immigration they must not do it at the expense of the human rights of all people in their territory. This includes migrant workers.”

Ms. Pizzutelli added that for immigrant workers, current policies lead to “wages well below the domestic minimum, arbitrary wage reductions, delays in pay or no pay at all and long working hours. The problem is both widespread and systemic.”
Italy’s current migration policies control the number of migrants by allocating quotas for different types of workers, issuing residence permits based on a written contract of employment, but these quotas are much lower than the actual demand of migrant labour. This system, apart from being ineffective and open to abuse, also increases the risk of labour exploitation.

Employers prefer to hire workers already in the country regardless of the government entry quotas. Some of the seasonal workers may have expired permits, while others may have obtained entry visas through agencies but been unable to get residence permits due to lack of contracts.

As a result many migrant workers find themselves without valid papers meaning they are irregular migrants and subject to expulsion if caught.

Italian legislation has criminalized “illegal entry and stay” in the country thus stigmatizing irregular migrant workers and boosting xenophobia and discrimination against them, Amnesty International said.

It puts them in a position where they are unable to seek justice for being paid less or not at all or for being made to work long hours. The reality for many of them is that if they complain about the labour exploitation to the authorities they are often immediately arrested, detained and expelled because of their irregular status.   

“When amending their migration policies the Italian authorities must focus first and foremost on the rights of migrant workers regardless of their migration status. This includes providing them with effective access to justice,” said Ms. Pizzutelli. "This must include a safe and accessible mechanism that workers use to lodge complaints and pursue labour claims against employers, without fear of being arrested and deported."

An African worker who spoke to Amnesty International on condition of anonymity said: “When the employer does not pay, what can you do to get your money? Without documents, how can you go to the police? Without documents, you get expelled. But you haven’t done anything wrong…”

At the beginning of 2011, foreign nationals in Italy were estimated to be 5.4 million, i.e. about 8.9 per cent of the population. Of these, 4.9 million have valid documents allowing them to stay in the country. It is estimated that there are around half a million migrants without valid documentation, or irregular migrants.

Labour exploitation of migrant workers in the agricultural and construction sectors in several areas of Southern Italy is widespread. They receive on average about 40 per cent less than the pay of an Italian worker in the same job and work long hours.

Victims of labour exploitation are African and Asian migrants, some EU-nationals (mostly Bulgarians and Romanians) and non-EU nationals from Eastern Europe (including Albanians).

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