Dumped like a dog: Indians protest worker's death in Italy, seek end to slavery

Thousands of Indians marched in Italy to protest against the death of Satnam Singh, who was dumped by his employers after his hand was chopped off in an accident while working at a farm. The Indian workers are seeking justice for Singh, and an end to 'slavery'.
Dumped like a dog: Indians protest worker's death in Italy, seek end to slavery
Members of the Indian community protest along with unions of agriculture workers on June 25, 2024 in Latina, near Rome.

Satnam Singh was cutting hay when his arm got chopped off by the machine. What made matters worse was that Singh, an Indian in his early 30s, was working illegally on a farm in Italy. His employers put him in a truck and "dumped" him like a "bag of rubbish near his home" along with his severed hand.

Medical help came late for Satnam Singh, who was bleeding profusely, and he died on June 19 far from his village in Moga, Punjab.

Satnam Singh was one of the thousands of Indians working illegally on farms in Italy, especially in the Pontine Marshes area. They are underpaid, and women are even at risk of sexual exploitation.

Thousands of Indian farm labourers protested in Italy on Tuesday (June 25), seeking an end to "slavery" after Singh's death, news agency AFP reported.

Singh's death highlighted the brutal exploitation of undocumented migrants in Italy. According to Ministry of External Affairs data in May 2024, there are over 2 lakh overseas Indians in Italy. The number of documented Indians in Italy is highest in continental Europe just after Germany.

"He was thrown out like a dog. There is exploitation every day, we suffer it every day, it must end now," Gurmukh Singh, head of the Indian community in the Lazio region of central Italy, was quoted by AFP as saying. "We come here to work, not to die," he added.

Latina, where Satnam Singh was working, is infamous for exploitation of migrant workers. Singh's accident and him being dumped by his employers to die, has highlighted the exploitation and shaken some Italians.

Italy Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni condemned Singh’s death as inhumane and barbaric.

“These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarism will be harshly punished,” Meloni said.

Labour Minister Marina Calderone called the incident "a true act of barbarity" in the Italian Parliament.

Calderone said authorities were investigating the incident and hoped those responsible for the act would be punished.

The centre-left Democratic Party called Singh's death a "defeat for civilisation".

Both Satnam Singh and his wife worked at the Agro Potino farm in Italy.

His wife sought the help of neighbours, who called in an air ambulance and Singh was airlifted to a hospital. But he didn't survive.

Indians have worked in the Agro Pontino since the mid-1980s, harvesting pumpkins, leeks, beans and tomatoes, and working on flower farms or in buffalo mozzarella production.

Trade union representatives met minister Calderone and Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida to discuss how such incidents could be prevented, reported CNN.

Trade unions organised a protest and a two-hour strike in Latina, demanding “dignity and respect for the health and safety of workers”. They also organised a fundraiser for Singh’s family.

Latina, a city in a rural area south of Rome, is home to tens of thousands of migrant workers from India.

Children held up colourful posters, reading "Justice for Satnam Singh" as the procession of Indian workers snaked through Latina, reports AFP.

The lack of labour contracts deters employers from getting medical help for undocumented migrant workers, because they could get into legal troubles.

"My boss said he couldn't take me to hospital because I didn't have a contract," Parambar Singh, whose eye was injured at work, told AFP.

"Satnam died one day, I die every day. Because I too am a labour victim," said the 33-year-old Indian. He has been struggling to work since the accident 10 months ago.

The exploitation is a result of a gangmaster system that supplies labour to worker-starved farms.

PM Giorgia Meloni said Italy's visa system was being exploited by organised crime groups to smuggle in illegal migrants.

Just 30% of workers given visas by Italy actually travel to the country to work, according to Confagricoltura agribusiness association. This shows why Italian farms face shortages.

It is the lack of contracts for illegal migrants which is at the root of the exploitation of Indians in Italy.

The country's largest trade union, CGIL, estimates there are around 230,000 agricultural workers without contracts.

"We all need regular job contracts, not to be trapped in this slavery," said Akveer Kaur, one of the protesting migrant workers from India. Satnam Singh, she said, should be the last Indian to die such a death in Italy.

Source: India Today

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