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article imageFarm workers protest in Italy after migrant crash deaths

By Arman SOLDIN, Virginie ZILIANI (AFP)     Aug 8, 2018 in World

Hundreds of mostly African farm labourers downed tools Wednesday and marched from fields in southern Italy chanting "we are not slaves", protesting at conditions for tomato pickers after 16 migrant workers died in two road crashes.

The near-identical accidents within 48 hours of each other highlighted the plight of farm workers around the the city of Foggia in the Puglia region, where thousands of foreign labourers spend the summer season harvesting tomatoes, often at the mercy of recruiters sometimes linked to organised crime.

Striking demonstrators, many wearing red caps, waving flags or carrying tomatoes, walked for three hours in the baking sun from the countryside towards Foggia, shouting: "We are not slaves, no to exploitation."

"You know how much Italian tomatoes cost? The price of African blood," said 41-year-old Kogyate Diakine, from Ivory Coast, who has lived in Italy for more than a decade.

Striking demonstrators shouted "we are not slaves  no to exploitation" as they made their ...
Striking demonstrators shouted "we are not slaves, no to exploitation" as they made their way from the countryside towards the city of Foggia in the southern Puglia region
ROBERTO D'AGOSTINO, AFP

Italy's government has scrambled to respond to the outcry over the deaths, with hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini declaring war on the "mafia" in and around Foggia and promising to eradicate it "street by street, town by town", during a visit to the region on Tuesday.

Both the road crashes in the region happened when lorries transporting tomatoes slammed into vans carrying foreign farm workers returning from their day's work.

An accident on Saturday left four African farm workers dead and four others seriously injured, while another on Monday killed 12 people, all non-EU citizens.

- 'Discouraged and unwelcome' -

The Foggia province hosts thousands of Africans who spend the summer harvesting season picking tomatoes in blazing temperatures alongside workers from eastern Europe, typically Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles.

"We are discouraged and unwelcome. Here we are nothing," said Barri Alfa, from Ivory Coast.

Although most of those working in the fields in Italy have regular papers, they rarely receive the benefits and salaries required by law, and many live in squalid conditions.

Twelve migrant agricultural workers were killed when the van transporting them during tomato harvest...
Twelve migrant agricultural workers were killed when the van transporting them during tomato harvest season smashed into a lorry in southern Italy
-, CONTROLUCE/AFP

They are often beholden to the recruiters, who operate as intermediaries and collect a portion of the workers' pay.

"I work eight to 10 hours per day for 30 euros (£35), with only 30 minutes break at midday, and I still have to pay five euros for transport," said one 22-year-old Malian worker.

His pay was around average of those interviewed by AFP, despite being below the minimum wage of 48 euros in agriculture for a working day of up to seven hours.

For years, unions and associations that help migrant workers have called for a public transport system to be created around Foggia for the peak harvest season.

The Puglia region has now budgeted for such a system, governor Michele Emiliano said on Monday, but he added that cooperation and transparency from the farms was crucial.

Italy's main farming union, the Coldiretti, criticised market pressures saying that in a 1.30 euro bottle of tomato sauce sold in Italian supermarkets, the tomato represented just eight percent of the price, with 10 percent for the bottle, 18 percent for processing and 53 percent for distribution.

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