Value of food against illegal hiring. Interview with Susanna Cenni

Illegal hiring, agricolture, immigrant workers, awareness of the value of food. These are the themes of the interview with Susanna Cenni, Vice President of the Agriculture Commission of the Chamber of Deputies and responsible for Agriculture of the Democratic Party.

After two years of hearings and fact-finding investigations, a final document of the Chamber’s joint Labor and Agriculture committees was approved on the phenomenon of illegal hiring. A job that you defined as essential. What are the results and proposals of this document?

Undoubtedly a long and vital job started with a government that – I would like to remind – announced that it wanted to “put hand” on the law on the hiring (199/2016), which, fortunately, did not happen. The results are contained in almost 30 pages of summary and some relatively clear indications of work that received a unanimous vote in the two commissions gathered. It is confirmed that 199/2016 is a good law, but that it is partly not implemented: it is necessary to intervene on market distortions and on competitiveness that continues to play on the fall in prices; it is required to intervene on the rules for the entry of immigrant workers; it is necessary to encourage and enhance the transparent supply chains and companies that adhere to the network of agricultural quality work; more inspectors are needed for controls and services for taking charge of complainants. We were hoping for social conditionality in the new CAP, a battle that has been won in recent days.

The law 199/2016 against labour exploitation constitutes a fundamental outpost, as many investigations, inquiries, and trials demonstrate. So what to do for its complete application?

In part, the conclusion of the investigation says it. It is a fundamental pillar, but it is indispensable to apply it thoroughly, to make it work in all its articulation, even with a more active role of INPS in the area. To this end, I believe that the interventions envisaged by the plan launched by the competent Ministers must proceed promptly and that the opportunities also provided in the PNRR must be fully used for housing and to make the shame of the ghettos in which they continue to live in inhumane conditions a thing of the past.

Along with illegal hiring, regulations persist in Italy that help define the vulnerability and blackmail of migrants employed in the agricultural sector and beyond. For example, the Bossi-Fini law of 2002 and the Flows Decree, recently criticized by the President of the Court of Cassation, Dr Giovanni Salvi, in an interview with Eurispes. What is his opinion on this, and what to do?

I think the time to change those rules is now ripe. At the beginning of the legislature, we underwent a pejorative security decree, only partially improved by Conte 2, which, for example, addresses the issue of the convertibility of residence permits issued for other reasons into work permits. A first step has been taken with the regulations on regularization. However, we have also seen its limits. As we wrote in the report, rules are needed to manage the modalities of entry of foreign workers for work reasons in our Country in an orderly and continuous manner. It is worth mentioning how the alarm has been raised for some weeks now about the lack of labor in agriculture. Here, let us remember, even after the harvest, that we are asking for the help of people. 

Labour exploitation involves men but, more and more often, also women. How to intervene on this specific and dramatic theme?

I am, as you know, susceptible to the subject. The reports prepared by the Placido Rizzotto Observatory, by Eurispes, the stories of Borrometi on the province of Ragusa, the work of Omizzolo on the Agro Pontino, and other data are a testimony of that dramatic dimension of further exploitation that concerns the women’s arms and bodies. It is pretty clear that all this is being fought with a territorial system of taking charge of women/victims: initial reception, health care, legal protection, social support. Therefore, the first great message must be the defeat of the isolation of these women. I tried to insert some ideas on this in my proposal for law 2930 of 8 March 2021, in which, in Article 4 – which regulates the drafting of the plan for actions in support of women in agriculture –, «networks of contrast and prevention of the phenomena of harassment and violence also in connection with the counselling centres, the anti-violence centres, the local health authorities ». However, I count on listening and speaking directly with some of these women to gather the testimonies and suggestions necessary to defeat this dramatic criminal phenomenon.

For years, the province of Latina has been characterized by various forms of exploitation, in some cases even slavery. Recently, with the “No Pain” operation, the local prosecutor, through the Carabinieri of the NAS, arrested, among others, a general practitioner and a pharmacist from Sabaudia who issued prescriptions to Indian labourers to buy, without having the related pathologies, medicines to withstand particularly intense rhythms and working hours. How to intervene to prevent phenomena of this type?

These events have given us the portrait of companies and unscrupulous exploitation, based on the use of human beings as mere machinery without any human relationship, without respect not only for trade union rights but also for human rights. But they also highlight frightening networks of connivance. I hope that those responsible are adequately prosecuted. We need controls, traceability and we really need a great direction between the police, institutions and trade unions so that connivance and silence are defeated, and the widespread culture of legality is imposed. And male and female workers of any nationality must be not isolated but become aware of their rights.

On 2 June 2018, the then Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, publicly stated: “the godsend is over!”, addressing the migrants present in Italy. That same day the 29-year-old Malian Soumalia Sacko was shot and killed in San Calogero (province of Vibo Valentia) to recover some sheet metal in a factory. How much responsibility does sovereign politics have in having generated, in this Country, a discriminatory climate that may have produced severe episodes such as the death of Soumalia Sacko?

A huge responsibility. Unfortunately, that violent tragedy was followed by others, even recently. I think about Borgo Mezzanone, of the fires in the ghettos. In recent days, I also think about the death of Camara Fantamadi, 27, who died after working in the heat of hell while coming back from work. A godsend, indeed. As also happened to Paola Clemente. A few euros an hour, inhumane working conditions, when there are fictitious contracts. The issue of working conditions in the fields, in construction, in logistics is exploding very strongly. And we know that the pandemic crisis has aggravated this picture. I trust in the presence of Andrea Orlando at the helm of the Ministry of Labor. It is not just about rules, but about putting culture and social cohesion back into the field that forcefully puts people and safeguards at the centre, in a complex phase like the one we are experiencing. There can be no restart or resilience without social cohesion.

In your opinion, how will the PNRR intervene in rescuing men and women from the grip of illegal hiring and exploitation?

The theme is resumed, and a clear reference is made, as I said previously, to the interventions on housing in Mission 2. In the PNRR there are explicit objectives in Mission 5 with the National Plan for the fight against undeclared work, which recalls the three-year plan against illegal hiring. Specific goals are mentionned: refinement of data collection and sharing techniques to have information circulation between the various authorities, measures to support the transformation of irregular work into regular work, strengthening of control systems – including through the recruitment of new inspectors. A first deadline is expected in 2022 with the increase of inspections and measurement of the effectiveness of the measures. Of course, it will also be necessary to monitor the implementing decrees because it is clear that within the contracts, depending on how they are done, new opportunities for exploitation and submerged can lurk, and the maximum discount would not help in this battle.

Agriculture and large-scale distribution. How to overcome unfair practices and economic interests that develop at the expense of labour and environmental rights?

The dynamics of prices in food products is one of the reasons behind the exploitation of labour in agriculture (and not only) and the difficulties of the many small agricultural businesses that cannot have a decent income from their activity. The large-scale retail trade can, if it wishes, play a virtuous role. Some chains have started investing in us with supply chains that enhance the dignity of work, respect for the environment and traceability. Unfortunately, not all of them do. In the Chamber, two years ago, a draft law of mine was approved to ban double-discount auctions, limit the use of below cost, encourage ethical and transparent supply chains that invest in the quality of work and adherence to the work network agricultural quality. That text was born after the emergence of Eurospin’s recourse to double-discount auctions. Unfortunately, the law has not yet been approved by the Senate.

In the meantime, our Country has implemented the European directive against unfair practices, but the Government must implement the delegation, so we are, once again, in the middle of collection season with no rules prohibiting those auctions.

Basically, we need to do more. And not just as individual countries. Building food systems capable of guaranteeing quality food for all, which are fair, environmentally and socially sustainable, will be the challenge to be won globally. We must commit ourselves to ensure that the significant amount of resources we will have at our disposal with the new CAP programming and the PNRR moves in this direction. And to build a widespread culture and education, and awareness of the value of food, of things behind it, learn to recognize and choose, to leave products on the shelves at too low prices instead of obsessively filling our shopping carts. Also, because those quantities of “offers” too often become waste and food waste.

*Marco Omizzolo, Sociologist and researcher Eurispes.

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