Sabaudia, Italy: When Balbir Singh refers to his ordeal, he makes use of the Italian phrase “macello”, which roughly interprets as “mess” – however it’s hardly sufficient to convey what the migrant Indian farm employee has endured.
For six years, he lived in what can solely be described as slave-like situations tending cattle within the province of Latina, a rural space south of Rome that’s residence to tens of 1000’s of Indian migrant employees like him.
“I used to be working 12-13 hours a day, together with Sundays, with no holidays, no relaxation,” Singh mentioned.
The farm proprietor paid him 100 to 150 euros ($120 to $175) a month, he mentioned, which quantities to lower than 50 cents an hour.
The authorized minimal for farm employees is round 10 euros an hour.
Singh was rescued by a police raid on March 17, 2017 after interesting for assist by way of Fb and WhatsApp to native Indian group leaders and an Italian rights activist.
Officers discovered him residing in a caravan, with no fuel, sizzling water or electrical energy, and consuming the leftovers that his boss both threw within the bin or gave to chickens and pigs.
Singh needed to wash within the stables, with the identical hosepipe he used to wash cattle, and it was made clear to him he mustn’t complain.
“When I discovered a lawyer prepared to assist me, (the proprietor) informed me… ‘I’ll kill you, I’ll dig a gap, throw you in it, and fill it up’… he had a gun, I noticed it,” he recalled.
Singh mentioned he was crushed up a few occasions, and had his identification papers taken away.
His former employer is now on trial for labour exploitation, whereas Singh resides in a secret location for worry of retribution.
Singh’s story is excessive, but it surely matches right into a wider image of brutal exploitation of migrant farm labourers within the Agro Pontino – the Pontine Marshes, the plain round Latina – and elsewhere in Italy.
The UN’s particular rapporteur on modern types of slavery estimated in 2018 that greater than 400,000 agricultural employees in Italy threat being exploited and nearly 100,000 possible face “inhumane situations”.
Final month, a 27-year-old from Mali collapsed and died within the southeastern Apulia area after working a day within the fields in temperatures of as much as 40 levels Celsius.
Within the Agro Pontino, a significant hub for greenhouse farming, floriculture and buffalo mozzarella manufacturing, Indians have been a presence for the reason that mid-Nineteen Eighties.
They work on land drained from marshes within the Nineteen Thirties, one of many largest public works initiatives enacted beneath dictator Benito Mussolini.
Sociologist Marco Omizzolo, the rights activist who helped free Singh, says between 25,000 and 30,000 Indians reside within the Agro Pontino, principally Sikhs from the Punjab area.
Below an unlawful however well-established system, they reside beneath the thumb of “caporali”, the gangmasters who recruit farm labourers on behalf of land house owners.
Usually, they’re supplied contracts however then are paid for under a fraction of their work.
“It’s possible you’ll work 28 days, however they’ll mark solely 4 in your pay slip, so on the finish of the month you could get 200, 300 euros,” Omizzolo mentioned.
“Formally, it’s all by the ebook,” he added.
The fact is way grimmer, as proven by a latest police investigation that supplied contemporary proof of widespread opioid abuse among the many Indian group.
That operation led to the arrest of a physician within the seaside city of Sabaudia. He was accused of illegally prescribing greater than 1,500 packing containers of Depalgos, a strong painkiller containing Oxycodone and given to most cancers sufferers, to 222 Indian farm employees.
“The drug presumably allowed them to work longer within the fields by relieving ache and fatigue,” Latina chief prosecutor Giuseppe De Falco mentioned.
‘Struggle for rights’
The issue of exploitation of farm employees has not gone unnoticed in parliament. It was beneath an anti-caporali legislation handed in 2016 that Singh’s employer was prosecuted.
However unions say there are nonetheless too few checks and labour inspectors to implement the legislation correctly.
Sociologist Omizzolo, who works with the Eurispes suppose tank, spent years researching farm labour abuse within the Latina space – a few of it undercover.
He lived for 3 months in Bella Farnia, a village principally occupied by Indians, working incognito within the fields.
He, too, now lives beneath police safety, after a number of demise threats.
In 2019, he was given a knighthood by President Sergio Mattarella in recognition of his “brave work”.
In 2016, the sociologist was instrumental, together with the Flai Cgil commerce union, in organising the first-ever strike of the Agro Pontino’s Indian employees.
Since then, their hourly pay has risen from three euros or much less per hour to round 5 euros – though that is nonetheless solely half the authorized minimal.
Omizzolo recognises the working situations are nonetheless removed from perfect. However the protest, he mentioned, made the Indians perceive that “it pays to combat on your rights.”