“Rosarno...and Then?” is an Italian project in place since 2013, which provides support to victims of labour exploitation through services of legal and social assistance. The project is implemented by the Italian Council for Refugees in the region of Campania (provinces of Napoli, Salerno and Caserta). For the city of Caserta the activities are coordinated in cooperation with Centro Sociale "Ex Canapificio" and Caritas di Caserta. Migrants Matter interviewed Novella Ricciuti, Legal Officer for the Italian Council for Refugees in the area of Caserta.
The name of the project recalls tragic events that took place in the southern Italian town of Rosarno in 2010. That January, two Africans were shot dead for unknown reasons sparking clashes between non-EU immigrants, the Italian police, and local residents that left 53 wounded. The critical living conditions of the migrant community in the area, the widespread labour exploitation and episodes of racism are the reasons behind these episodes of violence - and these are worsened by the presence of different Mafia clans controlling several economic activities .
With “Rosarno...and Then?” you decided to target an area of Italy – the provinces of Salerno and Caserta – which is complicated for several reasons. Can you explain what context you are working in, and what is the impact of labour exploitation on migrant workers?
The project covers an area with a high concentration of foreign citizens, mostly in an irregular situation. Our help desk is located in the city of Caserta, although the beneficiaries mainly come from the surrounding areas – Castel Volturno, Casal di Principe, Mondragone. As the majority of migrants are not regularised, there are no official statistics on the exact figure of migrant population. However, we know that many of them are asylum seekers or benefit from different types of international protection. They are also victims of labour exploitation despite their regularised status.
In this area, labour exploitation is the norm rather than the exception. The economic situation pushes these individuals to work in conditions that are far below the rights and criteria that apply to national citizens. A diverse treatment is the rule, although it ranges between more or less serious discrimination depending on the specific case.
The persons we assist generally move from one region to another according to the season and the working opportunities, mostly staying in the south of Italy. Nationalities vary - most of them come from Western Africa: Ghana, Niger, Liberia, Ivory Cost, Burkina Faso. They usually are on the Italian territory irregularly – though not exclusively, and they often obtain a residence permit for humanitarian reasons once they are recognised as victims of exploitation.
To what extent is the phenomenon entrenched on this territory?
Labour exploitation is absolutely rooted. This means working an average of 12 hours a day, not getting paid, working in dangerous conditions which affect life and health. The level of exploitation can obviously vary. Many of the migrants we assist are victims of exploitation on building sites where they work as bricklayers. The other principal sector of exploitation is agriculture.
They come to our desk after losing their job, following an accident, or often because they are not paid the promised salary. Obviously, these wages never respect the standards established by the law, as they are generally twice or three times lower – 25/30 € per 10/12 hours work. What is peculiar about this type of exploitation is the duration of the working relation: it is commonly daily-lasting, and rarely longer. Workers gather in the morning in gathering points where they are picked up by the employer. It is a working relation that starts and ends on the same day. The job is characterised by extreme precariousness for the employee.
Are migrant workers aware that they are working under unjust conditions?
It is worth noting that these people have in general a very high level of endurance. Despite the fact that it is not what they expected when they left their countries, they get used to it. They can wait for a period of 6/7 months before denouncing their employer for not paying them. Only then do they realise the betrayal.
Since its beginning, the project “Rosarno...and Then?” has been committed to developing integration processes for victims of labour exploitation. How many people have you assisted during this year's activity? What are the main difficulties you have faced in working in such a complex field?
Our help desk in this year's activity has assisted more than 2000 individuals, and more than 100 have benefited from our direct services.
The project works with one employment lawyer and one criminal lawyer. As most users turn to us to retrieve their wages, the employment lawyer collects data and testimonies in order to file complaints. In general we opt for a conciliatory solution with the employer, and only when this is not possible do we take it to court.
In the most serious cases the person decides to denounce the employer. In these cases a legal procedure starts and investigations take place. This solution envisages long waiting times as well as the request of a residence permit for humanitarian reasons for the victim, as provided by Article 18 of the Immigration Law (Testo Unico sull'Immigrazione). Up to now we have obtained one conviction in first instance for one of the employers.
Furthermore, we provide education trainings to a small number of beneficiaries, as well as economic support for housing, medical expenditures and special trainings to vulnerable cases or persons under threat.
The project also aims at “creating a legal framework at the national and regional level able to combat the exploitation of migrant workers”. In your opinion, when does the Italian system fail to protect the victims of labour exploitation? Does the Italian legislation provide the same protection to victims with regular and irregular status?
There have been some improvements in the Italian legislation in the field of labour exploitation during the last years. In 2011, Decree 2011/138 introduced the crime of intermediation in labour exploitation – punishing recruiters of day labourers. This was an important step forward, but it did not take into consideration the fact that the victims of exploitation are exploited by the employers, who do not undertake any serious sentence.
An important shortcoming in the Italian legislation is its detachment from the European framework. The EU Directive 52 has been of critical importance in defining the conditions of exploitation. The scope is quite broad and could be used to protect victims in a more efficient manner. Although it is implemented by Italy, many aspects remain unaddressed.
One of the examples is the reporting process, an important aspect of the question that the Directive seeks to facilitate. A victim willing to report abuses by his employer finds himself in a weaker position, the procedure is very long and does not grant enough protection to the plaintiff. This point is fundamental, and it has been largely neglected by the Italian legislation.
Another neglected aspect of the question: informing migrants about their rights as workers.
The Labour Inspection Unit is responsible for this important information activity, which also applies to irregular workers. This Unit should work in strict contact with associations and NGOs – however, it is rarely the case.
Which actions have you undertaken to promote solutions to these problems? Has it been easy in your lobby work to find interlocutors?
At the local level we are working to promote and adopt positive innovative solutions, together with local authorities, syndicates and NGOs. We are currently developing a document containing Operative Guidelines on the fight against labour exploitation of migrant workers. The drafting process has involved all the different actors active in the field.
We are also committed to lobbying at the national level, although until now it has been difficult to find interlocutors within the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Employment. Once the results of the work we are doing at the local level will be ready, it will be easier for us to present them to the national public and find common and sustainable solutions.
 John Hooper for The Guardian, Racial violence continues in Italy as four migrant workers wounded in shootings, 9 January 2010
Marianne Arens and Stefan Steinberg for World Socialist Web Site, Italian police incarcerate 1,300 migrant workers after Calabria protest, 12 January 2010