New measures to tackle undeclared work in agriculture

At the end of 2011, the Puglia Region in southern Italy introduced innovative measures to tackle the problem of undeclared work in the agricultural sector. This sector has the highest rate of undeclared work in the country, and there is also a worrying amount of exploitation of foreign workers. The measures, following a union initiative, were adopted after demonstrations and strikes by foreign workers in summer 2011, and will be overseen by the social partners.


The rate of undeclared work in Italy is, on average, 12.2%, but there are strong regional differences. According to a report (in Italian) by the Italian National Institute for Statistics (Istat), the percentage of irregular workers in the south, where Puglia is situated, is 19%, while the figure in northern Italy is 10.2%.

The problem of undeclared work is mostly to be found in sectors where there is very intensive seasonal work, with the agricultural sector having the highest numbers of irregular workers – more than 3,000, or 37.2%. Comparable figures from Istat for industry and the service sector are 5.4% and 10.7% respectively.

The agricultural sector is also characterised by irregular recruitment practices, such as the ‘caporalato’, or gangmaster, system in which farm labourers – often illegal immigrants – are hired for very low wages. This behaviour (once regulated by a law which was repealed in 2003) was re-criminalised by Decree 138/2011 (IT1110019I) in September 2011.

In 2006 the Puglia region brought in its own legislation to try to combat irregular work and illegal recruitment (L.R. n.28/2006) which was considered by the EU Committee of the Regions to be the best administrative procedure of its kind in the EU-27. Under this law, companies in Puglia must apply national collective agreements for their workers in order to obtain European funds.

New measures

The new measures introduced by the Puglia Region represent a further attempt to combat irregular work. They have been brought in after foreign workers, who were harvesting crops, organised a series of protests and strikes in the summer of 2011. The regional government, by approving these measures, has formally acknowledged undeclared work and set up procedures to deal with it in line with a joint initiative, adopted on 18 July, 2006 (in Italian, 101Kb PDF), by the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Uil).

The booking list

In order to guarantee transparency over the allocation of jobs, there will be a booking list at every provincial employment office. Any workers who are willing to be hired and re-hired by regional agricultural enterprises will be able to register on this.

The region is also to introduce incentives for companies that take on these registered workers and which also offer employment guarantees. Employers will get EUR 200 for each worker they hire, up to maximum of €5,000. A budget of €700,000 has been set aside by the region to pay for this.

A negotiating body, based at the Regional Council Offices for Employment and including the social partners, will be set up to handle the technical aspects of managing lists and organising other administrative tasks of the initiative.

Quota system

A quota system, or index, will be used to establish the number of workers necessary for a particular job, according to the type of crop and the number of hectares cultivated. By comparing the number of workers anticipated by the index and the number actually declared by the company for social security purposes, officials will be able to identify possible cases of irregular work. The agricultural enterprises will be allowed a variation of between 10% – 15% from the the index, depending on the size of the enterprise.

Only companies that conform to the index will have the right to claim EU, national or regional funding.

Social partners will participate in a commission to oversee the new system.

Sofia Sanz, Cesos

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