Counting both regular and irregular farming stations, Italian agriculture is nowadays employing around 400,000 foreign workers. Most of them come from Western Africa, after facing endless journeys and dreadful experiences: while crossing the desert and then the Mediterranean sea, many of them very often lose friends or family.
Some of them have been living in Italy for the last 10 years, holding regular papers, hired by Northern Italy factories right before the economic crisis hit the country. Many of them live today in ghettoes inside self-managed and self-sufficient accommodations offering several activities: convenience stores, butchers, TV rooms, hair dressers, bike workshops, places of worship and even areas where prostitutes can work. Other workers come from the Maghreb region, or from the Balkan states, and live in Italy since the 90’s .
There’s no difference in terms of wages among workers coming from Africa or from other countries. But a regular contract often doesn’t mean better working conditions or safety rules. A “gray market” is getting more and more significant, as stated by MEDU in the Terra Ingiusta (Unfair Land) report and by the Flai Cgil Union with its reports Agromafie and Caporalato. The average wage of a foreign worker may vary in a range between 22 and 30 Euros a day.
The gray market is a close friend of “caporalato”, a gangmaster system with deep roots in the Italian agriculture routine. Every region has its own form of “caporalato”, but it gets often replaced by a sort of “ethnic or tribal system”: the relationship between farmers and workers is in fact very often managed directly by foreign workers who have been living in the area for the longest time: this situation – where decisions are taken by few – has led very often to human trafficking.