Amnesty International Report Exposes Widespread Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Italy

Press Release
December 17, 2012

Amnesty International Report Exposes Widespread Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Italy

Rights Group Urges Authorities to Amend Policies; End Abuse and Stigmatization of Irregular Workers

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-509-8579, @spksingh

(New York) – A new Amnesty International report released today urges Italy to overhaul a series of policies that contribute to the exploitation of migrant laborers by violating their right to work in just and favorable conditions and barring them access to justice.

The report, Exploited Labor: Migrant Workers in Italy’s Agricultural Sector, 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. Although the report focuses on the agricultural sector in the southern areas of Latina and Caserta, it notes that exploitation of migrant workers is widespread across Italy.

“In the past decade, the Italian authorities have been whipping up public anxiety, justifying strict migration measures by alleging that the country’s security is threatened by an uncontrollable ‘clandestine’ migration,” said Francesca Pizzutelli, researcher and advisor on refugees and migrant rights at Amnesty International. “These measures put migrant workers in a precarious legal situation, making them easy prey for exploitation.”

“The outcome for migrant workers is often: wages well below the domestic minimum, arbitrary wage reductions, delays in pay or no pay at all and long working hours,” said Pizzutelli. “The problem is both widespread and systemic. While the authorities in any country are entitled to control immigration, they must not do so at the expense of the human rights of all people in their territory, including migrant workers.”

Italy’s current migration policies control the number of migrants by criminalizing “illegal entry and stay.” Authorities allocate 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 labor. This system, apart from being ineffective and open to abuse, also increases the risk of labor exploitation.

Employers prefer to hire workers already in the country regardless of the government entry quotas. Some seasonal workers may have expired papers, 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 without valid papers are considered irregular migrants, and risk expulsion if caught.

The stigmatization of irregular migrant workers boosts xenophobia and discrimination against them. The reality for many workers is that if they complain about the labor exploitation to the authorities, they are 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,” said Pizzutelli. “This includes providing them with effective access to justice – especially a safe and accessible mechanism that workers can use to lodge complaints and pursue labor claims against employers without fear of arrest or deportation."

At the beginning of 2011, there were an estimated 5.4 million foreign nationals in Italy – about 8.9percent 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.

Migrant workers in the agricultural and construction sectors in several areas of Southern Italy work long hours and receive, on average, about 40percent less than the pay of an Italian worker in the same job. They are composed of African and Asian migrants, some E.U.-nationals (mostly Bulgarians and Romanians) and non-E.U. nationals from Eastern Europe (including Albanians).

Indian and African migrant workers in the Latina and Caserta areas in Southern Italy spoke to Amnesty International on condition of anonymity:

"Hari" - For the first four years, I worked in a factory that packed onions and potatoes for export. I was paid 800 euros a month for 12-14 hours of work a day. The employer used to tell me that if I worked hard and well, they would get papers for me – they never did so.

“Sunny” - I work 9-10 hours a day from Monday to Saturday, then 5 hours on Sunday morning, for 3 euros an hour. The employer should pay me 600-700 euros a month and my plan was to send 500 euros a month to my father in India. However, the employer has not been paying me my full salary for the past seven months. He gives me just 100 euros a month. I can’t go to the police because I don’t have documents: they would take my fingerprints and I would have to leave.

“Ismael” - “When you don’t have papers, you can only get work on the black market, which is badly paid. We get 25 to 30 euros per day for eight or nine hours of work [from 2.75 to 3.75 euros per hour]. But if we get hurt we don’t get anything.”

“Jean-Baptiste” - “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…”

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.