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Migrant workers criticise Italy’s amnesty, say economic interest dominates

Starting from today and until 15 July, Italy’s undocumented migrants can apply for a six-month work permit – a measure met with mixed reactions.

The amnesty is part of the Italian government’s €55bn (£50bn) stimulus package for the pandemic and will benefit eligible workers in the agricultural and home care sectors.

The Minister of Agriculture Teresa Bellanova announced in tears that “the invisibles will be less invisible.”

Some have welcomed the provision – which could see up to 480,000 posts regularised – as a small victory against exploitation. “Many people lost their lives due to labour exploitation, it’s a very very serious matter,” said Jean-René Bilongo, a spokesperson for the farmworkers’ trade union CGIL-FLAI.

“This measure is the result of our mobilisation, which continued even during coronavirus’ difficult conditions,” he explained.

However, others have criticised the move as it is limited to specific categories of workers and does not automatically guarantee a regular employment contract.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement argued that it might also benefit exploitative employers who previously engaged in illegal labour practices.

Agricultural labourers called for a general strike on 21 May to protest the prioritisation of economic production over migrant workers’ dignity and visibility.

“It’s foolish to think that, in this historical moment, the government didn’t take a utilitarian decision,” said 24-year-old Diletta Bellotti, an Italian labour rights activist, who organised a sit-in on the day of the strike.

Italy faces a potential food shortage,  as over 200,000 seasonal workers are unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions. Bellotti says the amnesty was granted to put workers back into the fields and prop up the agricultural sector.

Instead of the current, limited amnesty, Bellotti calls for the imposition of a minimum wage, changes to distribution systems, and for consumers to make ethical choices.

“The global health emergency made Italians realise that food doesn’t simply fall from the sky,” she added. “If labourers go on strike, our supermarkets are empty and we go hungry, just like them.”

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