Andria - On 13 July 2015 Paola Clemente, 49, died from overwork in the fields around Andria (Puglia). She died from exhaustion: putting in twelve-hour days for a wage of less than thirty euro. Her death prompted Trani’s prosecutor to open an investigation that yesterday led to the arrest of six individuals accused of illicit labour contracting and worker exploitation. Those taken into custody are Pietro Bello, 52, manager of the temp agency for which Paola worked, and his collaborators/employees: Oronzo Catacchio, 47, and Giampietro Marinaro, 29.
Others detained included Ciro Grassi, 43, owner of a transport firm, Lucia Maria Marinaro, 39, wife of Ciro Grassi, who in turn is covered by a fictitious work contract; while 47-year old Giovanna Marinaro was placed under house arrest, she stands accused of undertaking the recruitment of farm workers for work in what almost amounted to inhuman conditions.
Paola’s story, and that of many others, represents an old form of illicit agricultural labour contracting known as “caporalato” in a modern guise, as pointed out the prosecutor for the city of Trani, Francesco Giannella, commenting on the operation conducted by Italy’s financial crimes police unit, the Guardia di Finanza: “This modern version of the “caporale” in our case,” said the prosecutor, “acted through a temporary labour agency. We are facing a more high-tech and modern form than in the past.” But the results are the same: workers forced to work twelve hours a day and paid a pittance after toiling like beasts in the fields of Puglia.The events leading to the arrest of the perpetrators were pieced together by prosecutors who in recent months had heard the testimonies of several female farm workers. What emerged were heart-breaking stories of people willing to accept any form of blackmail rather than losing the job. The women confirmed to prosecutors that they found significant discrepancies between the amounts declared on their pay cheque receipts and the amount they actually received, but that they had kept silent as “they had kids to feed and mortgages to pay.”
And also because it was pointless to try to protest against the exploitation, “If you try to fight them, you stand to lose,” said another farm worker to investigators, “no one in the past took the initiative to rebel, everyone knows this is how the system works.” Yet the system has now been smashed. How? Thanks to the painstaking work of prosecutors and financial analysts, which made it possible to crack the wall of silence surrounding the system of work-contract blackmail. The investigations finally brought to light the significant difference between the declared wages and the actual ones earned by the farm workers.
The findings were made possible as the workers who, unbeknownst to the “caporali”, had meticulously recorded the days worked, the number of hours worked in the fields, and the pay they received. The information was contained in two well-hidden notebooks that have finally shed light on the affair. They reveal about one thousand workdays not counted, equal to over €200,000, with Italy’s social security plan being defrauded of about €55,000. This, the modern version of “caporalato”, is what killed Paola Clemente.