To combat the forced labour and sexual exploitation of Romanian workers in Italy’s Sicilian province of Ragusa, authorities in both countries have agreed to join forces. Their decision follows an Observer investigation that found that thousands of Romanian agricultural workers are being abused by their employers.
As reported by The Guardian, a delegation of Romanian ministers sent by the prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, met provincial representatives and migrants’ rights organisations in Ragusa on March 17 to discuss conditions for Romanian women and find a way forward.
“Undeclared work is a major risk that Romanian workers are exposed to, and the sexual exploitation is real,” said Andreea Pastarnac, minister for Romanians abroad, during the meeting. “Denouncing these abuses is an important step for the victims. But we also need to stop the abuses before they happen. To do so, we are going to collaborate with the Italian authorities.”
Some 5,000 Romanian women work as seasonal agricultural workers, harvesting crops in a province that is currently the third-largest producer of vegetables in Europe. But the treatment of these workers is a growing human rights scandal, perpetrated with almost complete impunity.
According to The Guardian, migrant associations, authorities and unions estimate that more than half of all Romanian women working in the greenhouses are forced into sexual relations with their employers, and almost all of them work in conditions of forced labour and severe exploitation.
Yet many told the Observer they are too afraid to speak out, for fear of losing their jobs and being sent back home.
According to Maria Carmela Librizzi, the provincial official of the interior ministry, the first step is to help these women get out of the isolation they live in. “We need to build a high-trust relationship with them. If they trust us, they are going to speak out and report the abuses,” she said during the March 17 meeting.
“The presence of a Romanian delegation is an important signal,” said Domenico Leggio, the local president of Caritas, a Catholic charity, who has tried for years to help Romanian women working in the region. “I hope something important can be done this time.”
Giuseppe Scifo, a Ragusa union leader for CGIL, Italy’s largest union, agrees. “This is not the first time that, following a newspaper article that raises the abuses, authorities ask us for a meeting. It’s happened in the past and we are still here talking about these abuses and exploitation. We need a taskforce of inspectors in the field if we want to solve the problem.”