Hundreds of crop pickers have held a one-day strike and protest march in south-eastern Italy to protest the exploitation of migrant farm workers.
Labour union activists organised the strike and march from the shanty town of San Severo to the city of Foggia after 16 farm workers 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.
Workers said there was running water or electricity in the shanty town. 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 farm workers 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 are safe.
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 farm workers themselves contend they are often 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 Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads Italy’s new populist government, told reporters on Wednesday that enforcement of the law must be improved.