The Address | Benghazi – Libya
ROMA – Hundreds of laborers and farmers, mostly Africans, demonstrated in fields in southern Italy, shouting, “We are not slaves,” on Wednesday, to protest against the conditions of tomato harvesting workers after the deaths of 16 workers in two accidents.
The two accidents, which were similar in nature, and happened within 48 hours, highlighted the suffering of field workers in the city of Foggia in the province of Puglia, where thousands of foreigners spend the summer season harvesting tomatoes at the mercy of employment agencies, sometimes linked to organized crime.
The demonstrators, who stopped working, marched from the countryside towards Foggia, shouting, “We are not slaves, not exploitation.”
The Italian government was quick to respond to the anger caused by the deadly accidents, with the radical Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, declaring war on the “mafia” in and around Foggia, vowing to eliminate it, “street by street and town by town,” as he said during a visit to the region Tuesday.
The two accidents occurred in the area when trucks carrying tomatoes collided with minibuses carrying farm workers on their return from work.
An accident on Saturday killed four farm workers and seriously wounded four others, while Monday’s accident killed 12 people, all non-EU citizens.
Thousands of Africans, who spend the summer season harvesting tomatoes at high temperatures, along with other Eastern European workers from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, live in the Foggia region.
Although most field workers in Italy have legal documents, they rarely get the features and salaries stipulated by law, and many of them are living in miserable conditions.
They are usually dependent on their employers, which act as intermediaries and acquire part of the workers’ wages.
For years, unions and associations concerned with assisting migrant workers have called for the establishment of a public transport system in Foggia surrounding area during the harvest season.