Farmworkers protest treatment in Italy after migrant deaths

ROME (AP) – Hundreds of crop pickers held a one-day strike and protest march in southeastern Italy on Wednesday to protest the exploitation of migrant farmworkers.

Labour union activists organised the strike and march from the shanty town of San Severo to the city of Foggia after 16 farmworkers died in two recent road accidents in the Foggia area.

Flanked by labour leaders, the protesters held signs reading “Never Slaves” and “We are workers, not meat for the butcher.” Many waved flags of the left-wing USB labour union.

Activists said crop pickers are charged for rides in overcrowded, rundown vans to the fields and orchards where they spend long hours labouring in the sun.

The farmworkers who were killed on Saturday and Monday were riding in vans that collided with trucks carrying tomatoes. Prosecutors are investigating to determine if the vans safe.

African migrant workers stage a march to protest against their work conditions, following the death of 16 of their colleagues in two separate road accidents, near Foggia, Italy. – AP

Most of the crop pickers who work in Italy’s verdant Puglia region are foreigners, typically from Africa or eastern Europe. Union leaders and the farmworkers themselves contend they often are paid below union wages.

Italy’s previous centre-left government successfully lobbied in 2016 for a law intended to prevent the exploitation of agriculture workers, both migrants and Italians. It authorised stiffer penalties for labour recruiters and employers.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, who heads Italy’s new populist government, told reporters on Wednesday that enforcement of the law must be improved.