Inside a country where justice moves in a glacial pace, migrant workers suffering work abuses have scant incentive in the future forward

Singh was filled with resolve your day he walked into an Italian police station to report the abuse he was facing within the fields of southern Italia. I am a Sikh, states the farm worker from Punjab in northern India. And whenever a Sikh requires a decision, he’ll move forward, regardless of what.

Singh understood the danger he was taking. A couple of days after his trip to law enforcement station, he states, the threats and violence started in serious. Inside a week, he’d lost his job and been made to move home.

It is difficult for all of us. Here, were people from other countries, states Singh. Im afraid to return [to India] since i do not have anything there. However I understand what is going on to all of us within Italy is wrong.

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  • A view of the Pontina plain farms between the cities of Sezze and San Felice Circeo. No area of central Italy is more densely populated by Sikh migrant workers.

According to labour unions and community leaders, Italys largely hidden community of Sikh migrant workers there are an estimated 10,000 officially employed on farms in Pontina alone are more and more susceptible to exploitation and intimidation in some of Italys biggest food-producing regions.

The salads, tomato plants and courgettes selected by Pontinas Sikh farm personnel are transported to 1 of Europes largest vegetable markets in Fondi, a town in Italys Lazio region. After that, they’re offered throughout Italia and exported with other Countries in europe.

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Corruption and organised crime extend their tentacles throughout Italys food and farming sector, making an estimated 21.8bn (19.3bn) in illegal profits out of this area alone in 2016. Pontina isn’t any exception. Here, many workers depend on unofficial gangmasters to locate jobs within the a large number of farms scattered through the region. They’re expected to get results for far under the state minimum wage.

After coming in Italia from his home in Punjab in northern India in 2008, Singh laboured 12 hrs each day, six days per week on the vegetable and fruit farm in Pontina. The job was back breaking, the wages poor 150 per week for the most part and that he states his employer was violent and abusive.

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  • In April, roughly 2,000 Sikh workers gathered in Freedom Square, in Italys Latina province, to protest against their working conditions and request a minimum hourly wage of five euros still four less than the legal minimum.

According to reports by Medu, a company operated by Italian doctors, 43% of Sikh migrant farm workers in Italia don’t speak Italian, meaning they’re effectively stop from mainstream criminal justice and support services. In addition to poor pay and frequent non-payment of wages, the organisation identified serious health issues particularly chronic back injuries, overcrowded accommodation and contact with harmful pesticides as routine for Italys Sikh farm workers.

Opioid use among Sikh workers can also be spiralling: they mix opium to their chai tea every day and take strong painkillers during the night simply to carry on. The issue is particularly acute among older workers, states Harbajan Ghuman, an old farm worker and Sikh community leader. Ghuman claims some maqui berry farmers are offering the drugs straight to workers to make sure their productivity doesnt flag. How can a 50- or 60-year-old person cope throughout the day otherwise? he states.

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Pino Cappucci, regional secretary of labour union Flai-CGIL, states the amount of undocumented workers from northern India can also be allowing the conditions for mass exploitation and misery. Cappucci believes there might be as much as 10,000 Sikh workers unofficially employed on farms through the region, all potentially susceptible to exploitation.

Corruption and deceptiveness is trapping workers and departing them heavily indebted. Most Sikh labourers enter on the legal periodic working visa. Yet, based on CGIL Latina and also the testimony from the workers, many pay between 7,000 and 13,000 for an Indian intermediary in Italia to acquire these documents frequently using the complicity of the Italian player.

One particular worker is Kumar, a Punjabi Sikh. For Twenty Five years, his father labored in the centre East to aid his family. Because the oldest of 4 brothers and sisters, when Kumar switched 18 he felt it had been his use go abroad and discover work.

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  • The Pontinas Sikh community gather for an annual celebration at which people eat typical Indian dishes and attend dance shows.

His parents pawned the house and paid 13,000 for him to go to Italy and get his seasonal visa. In 2010, when his plane touched down, a car was there to meet him and drive him 45 miles south of the capital to Latina province. Since he arrived he has worked 13-hour days for about 4 an hour. He knows he isnt earning enough, but feels unable to report his situation to the authorities for fear of being unable to work or being sent back to India. He says he finds the work humiliating.

We do not have an employer we have a master, he says. He often yells at us and, when you talk to him, you should step back and bow your head.

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  • Kamal is a tailor. She lives with her uncle and aunt, who brought her with them to Italy. Among Indian migrants in Italy, 46% are women.

For Singh, the decision to go to the police came after he met social workers from In Migrazione, a workers cooperative.

Before, I was blind. They told us about our rights and I woke up, he says.

After Singh made his police report, the gangmaster who recruited and controlled the workers at farms across the region was arrested.

In April 2016, the suicide of a young greenhouse worker in Pontina led to a public demonstration. An estimated 2,000 Sikh workers took to the streets to protest against their working conditions and to request a minimum hourly wage of 5, still well under the legal minimum of 9 set by the Italian government.

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Since the strike in 2016, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of workers who, like Singh, report their employers to the authorities.

Before the strikes, we had five cases reported in 10 years. Since the strikes weve had more than 80, says social worker Marco Omizzolo, who founded In Migrazione.

Yet the initial momentum has slowed, he says, partly because of the drawn-out pace of the Italian legal system, which is dissuading others from reporting their employers. Like Singh, those who do almost inevitably lose their jobs and are vulnerable to intimidation. Singh says that since filing his report he has received no support or protection from the police.

All of this makes it difficult to persuade workers to testify against their employers, says Omizzolo.

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  • Gurpreet and his friend show both the Italian and Indian flags after winning the first official cricket tournament set up in Pontina by local NGOs.

In October 2016, the Italian parliament passed a new law made to deter gangmasters from recruiting and controlling periodic workers. Police controls in the region elevated, the police admit they aren’t making sufficient progress.

3 years after he walked in to the police station, Singhs situation is finally reaching court. Yet for him, existence has continued to be exactly the same. He’s presently focusing on another big farm in Pontina, facing exactly the same conditions.

Sometime I consider doing something again, he states. But should i be the only person to talk up, they’ll just send me away. If everyone was doing something together then things might change. No one can definitely do anything whatsoever to create things better alone.