Italy's farm worker abuse 'like the mafia'

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Paola Clemente, 49, died while working at a vineyard in Puglia. Photo: Simone
14:59 CEST+02:00
Italy’s Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina has condemned the death of a farm worker in the southern region of Puglia, saying agricultural exploitation was ‘like the mafia’ and needed to be stopped.

Paola Clemente, a 49-year-old farm labourer, collapsed from apparent exhaustion and later died while working for €2 an hour in a vineyard near Andria in Puglia.

The death of the mother-of-three shocked the nation and her husband has demanded justice.

“Unfortunately this story is a symbol of what must be changed. Nobody should be making profits exploiting workers in this way,” Martina said.

“Workers should not be dying while working in the fields. This phenomenon must be fought like the Mafia and to do so we need to mobilize everyone: government institutions, firms, associations and trade unions.”

There were also reports recently of the death of a 47-year-old Sudanese immigrant named Mohammed, who died while harvesting tomatoes in Puglia, and a Tunisian named only as Zaccaria, who died in early August while picking grapes.

Another farm worker, a 42-year-old named only as Archangelo, has reportedly been in a coma for two weeks after collapsing in Puglia.

Flai, the union which represents agricultural workers, says more than 1.4 million Italians and migrants work in the farming sector, and of these 300,000 are seasonal workers employed unofficially “in the black”, often for very low wages. 

They often move from region to region, picking grapes, oranges, lemons, tomatoes and olives in what the union calls on its website “real slavery”.

Martina called for controls to be stepped up and for firms and associations to take a harder line on those who did not respect workers’ rights.

From September, farming organizations will have to comply with new government guidelines that the minister said would create a system of ethical certification in the agricultural sector for the first time.

“It will not be a simple bureaucratic seal,” he said, but added that it would identify and commend “virtuous firms." 

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In the meantime two inquests have been opened into Clemente’s death in Trani, near Bari.

Prosecutor Carlo Maria Capristo has already complained to the media about the wall of silence surrounding the circumstances of her death.

“There’s an iron curtain,” Capristo said. “People do not collaborate, they prefer to earn a bit of spare change rather than cooperate with our inquiries.”

He urged workers and trade unions to do more to help investigators. 

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