An exploration of the two cases of labour exploitation detailed above reveals a number of similarities and dissimilarities. In both cases, migrant workers are engaged in low wage employment, are abused and manipulated. They face similar challenges. During their employment they are not given access to nutritious food; they work in often dangerous conditions with no training, safety equipment of access to health care. The migrants are not free to choose to leave their abusive employment and the conditions of exploitation are based on hierarchical structures in the workplace. In Rosarno, it is quite clear that the vulnerability of migrant workers to exploitation is exacerbated by their irregular status and gangmasters use blackmail to take illegal deductions out of the migrant worker’s wages because of this vulnerability. Moreover, the exploitation of the migrants brings financial and social benefits not only for the employers and gangmasters, but for the community at large. The job of fruit picking in Rosarno is today done by migrants rather than locals who, nonetheless, continue to profit by receiving state unemployment payments.
In both cases, fundamental labour rights were violated. However, the paths taken to seek justice have been quite different. In the Rosarno case, the migrants’ employment was outside of any regulation, it was completely undeclared work and the workers had no perception of having legal rights. Access to justice was not pursued by the workers themselves, but as a result of police investigation. Even then, fearing reprisals by their employers, the workers did not volunteer their testimony, but were approached by the police. Whilst some did ultimately receive financial assistance from the state, they have not received compensation or restitution for their exploitation. The case of Rosarno explicitly demonstrates that repressive policies alone cannot solve the problem and that the criminal justice approach, when applied in isolation, is insufficient. As NGOs working in the region have discovered, the labour situation in the Rosarno area remains the same as it was before the trial (Le Monde nest pas Rond 2013).
In the Tecnova case, however, the migrant workers moved beyond victimhood to being social actors able to seek justice on their own behalf. A key difference is that, unlike in Rosarno, there was a legal basis to their employment, albeit fraudulent. Having realised that the contracts that they had signed were intrinsically dishonest, and were, in any case, not being honoured, the migrant workers first approached the police to seek to indict their employers and then received the support of local trade unions. Again, unlike the workers in Rosarno, there was a comprehensive settlement that saw both regular and irregular migrants compensated and unpaid wages reimbursed. In this case, the migrant workers were pro-active rather than victimised, and the response of state and non-state actors was positive. In particular, the Tecnova case emphasises the importance of a concrete outcome in the form of financial restitution. Although there is an emerging awareness about the right to compensation for severely exploited persons, and despite the existence of compensation mechanisms in the legal frameworks of European countries, the actual receipt of compensation is extremely rare (OSCE 2008; Comp.act 2014).
To conclude, this chapter, and specifically the case studies, raise some key issues relevant to an effective response to labour exploitation of irregular migrants. Firstly, there is a need for consistent labour law strategies embedded in a broader framework combined with a comprehensive approach based on the reduction of vulnerabilities and a ‘decent work’ approach. In this respect, coherence between legislation and policies on migration and labour is especially relevant in order to guarantee protection for the exploited person, even in cases when the migrant is in an irregular position.
The situation in Italy typifies what happens in the majority of European countries where immigration control and the punishment of irregular migrants outweighs the labour and human rights of the migrant. In the United Kingdom, for example, Andrees and Besler (2009) and Skrivankova (2010) note that rather than addressing the fundamental causes of abuse within the labour market, the state exceptionalises this abuse by treating it as human trafficking. In Europe on the whole, providing assistance to victims is preferred to providing appropriate support to workers who want to defend themselves. Resources are available to assist victims, but not to monitor the functioning of the labour markets. Labour inspections, enforcement of minimum wage legislation, regulation of recruitment agencies and other tools are not promoted enough, and investigations usually are not proactive. Clark (2012: 3) points out with regards to labour exploitation within the EU, the problem is ‘imperfectly understood ... it is approached as being caused by the vulnerability of victims, rather than by deficiencies in the regulation of labour markets or the economy. The empowerment of those being exploited within the labour market is often the driving factor in accessing justice. Checks by local institutions on immigrants’ working conditions need to be increased.
In terms of the subject matter of this edited volume, both of the case studies examined in this chapter involved irregular migrants from Africa seeking to earn a living wage in Europe, in this instance in Italy. These migrants found themselves confronted by deception, exploitation, abuse and violence. The issue of African migrants’ labour rights needs to be central to the discourse on African migration to European countries, especially in the context of irregular migration. Migrants often make fortunes for intermediaries and employers who take advantage of their vulnerabilities. There is a growing acknowledgement that the exploitation of migrant labour is embedded in European societies and economies, and that more research is needed in this area in order to better inform effective policy formulation to address the issue.