From carers to farm labourers – Italy’s low-wage victims

They call them ‘low cost’ jobs – but they are low cost only for the workers. Thousands of people across Italy are being forced into arduous, low-paid work. According to research by Italian newspaper La Stampa, including interviews with workers and trade unions, they operate in a twilight world with few rules and even less supervision.

Employers ignore collectively agreed working conditions, which in sectors like agriculture vary from one region to another. “At least 12% of the workers are paid less than the hourly minimum for their sector,” says Andrea Garnero, an economist with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Agriculture, domestic work, hotels and catering, and sporting and cultural activities are the areas most open to exploitation.

Who are these new slaves of the so-called ‘turbocapitalism’? They are found in restaurants as dish-washers, in homes as carers and domestic servants, or pedalling many kilometres as bicycle messengers, all for less than €7 an hour. It is not only immigrant labourers who are exploited. Luca, a delivery driver in Veneto, loses half his salary paying for the petrol he needs to carry 15,000 parcels a month. In Milan, Deliveroo rider Enrico earns €5.6 per hour plus €1.2 per item delivered, taking home €450 a month. If he has an accident, he receives no assistance, and someone else will get the work.

50-year-old Francesca gets up at dawn to pick cherries or grapes in Puglia. She should earn €52 for a six-hour day, but actually receives €28-30: less than €5 an hour. “There are many women in this sector, and they know that we have no choice,” she says.

“The contractual minimum for a six-and-a-half hour day should start from €40-42 gross,” said Giovanni Mininni, national secretary of Flai-Cgil. “But employers get round it.” Rice-growers, for example, complain they cannot pay because competition from the Far East is driving down prices.

“The increasing number of what this survey calls ‘low-cost’ jobs challenges the process of growth in Italy,” added CGIL Confederal Secretary Tania Scacchetti. “Unfortunately, growth is very weak, and inequalities are on the rise. Quality jobs and decent salaries should be at the core of economic policies with a focus on private and public investments in order to create employment in research, education, welfare, and environment.

“The most precarious forms of employment should be abolished, and open-ended contracts relaunched. Bogus self-employment and abusive internships should be banned, and limits set for the use of short-term contracts.

“CGIL proposed the Universal Charter of Labour Rights in order to make sure that all workers enjoy a set of basic labour rights regardless of the type of contract. A pay rise is urgent, and it should be achieved by strengthening collective bargaining and reform of the representativeness of unions as proposed by Italian trade union confederations,” she concluded.

The European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions underlines that one-quarter of agricultural workers in Europe have no written employment contract setting down pay and conditions, and Italy is one of the Member States where oral contracts are particularly common.  The Federation is demanding a written employment contract for every agricultural worker, in his or her own language, from day one on the job.

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