ILO: Italy violates conventions about migrants

by Vittorio Longhi

GENEVA – After the Panama government, before the Ethiopians. The hearing against the Italian Government at the 98th International Labour Conference was held yesterday afternoon, the third in the list of hearings involving another 24 countries, none of which are European. The government has been called upon by the International Labour Organization, the ILO, to answer serious accusations of discrimination in relation to migrant workers, and thus of breach of Convention 143, ratified by Italy in 1981, which promotes parity of opportunities and of treatment. The  UN agency Committee of Experts has also asked from clarifications on the Security Decree and on the agreement with Libya, measures which give rise to concern on the part of the international community.

The government reply
During the debate, the head of the immigration department at the Ministry of Welfare, Giuseppe Silveri, did not reply in relation to Convention 143 and immediately stated that he found the observations of the ILO Committee of Experts to be “unjust”. Instead he listed the projects funded for the integration of Rom and Sinti minorities, he spoke about inspections for combating illegal employment and the Government’s National Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR) which has opened a web page for complaints on discrimination. On the Security Decree and on the offence of irregular immigration, Silveri repeated, in an attempt to offer reassurance, that “this is not yet law, the measure is under discussion, it has been modified several times and may be modified again”. “Therefore”, he concluded, “it is not possible to comment”. And today it has been learned that the Minister, Maurizio Sacconi, will not take part as expected in the conference next week. It seems that Sacconi himself – who was also director of the Italian ILO office from 1995 to 2001 – has made a formal protest to the organisation about being called to the hearing.

The accusations against Italy
In March the ILO published its annual report of experts, from which it clearly emerged that immigrants in Italy,  either legal or illegal, are victims not only of direct discrimination, with different conditions of employment, but also of indirect discrimination, due to the climate of clear racism spread throughout the country, especially against Romanians, Roma and Sinti. These accusations have added over recent months to the concerns of the Council of Europe about the growing xenophobia and to the opposition to the driving-back of migrants toward Libya expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Condemnation by the unions
On thebasis of that report, it was the three Italian trade unions (CGIL, CISL and UIL) to bring into question the Italian case during the “tripartite” ILO conference, consisting  of government, business and union representatives. Leopoldo Tartaglia, on behalf of the three confederations, explained that: “In general, discrimination involving documented migrants ranges from access to jobs in the public sector, which is refused to those who are not Italian citizens, to salaries (40% less than Italians) and the impossibility of using foreign qualifications because they are not recognised”.

Discrimination at work
In particular, Convention 143 states that when a migrant is found working in a situation of irregularity “he must be treated equally in respect of rights arising from a past employment as regards remuneration, social security and other benefits”. Yet in practice, according to the unions, an undocumented migrant has no guaranteed right of remuneration, and even less to social security contributions, as the report often turns into an expulsion. And not just this: the international treaty establishes that regular resident migrants with a job “cannot be considered as being irregular by the mere fact of having lost their job, which shall not in itself imply the withdrawal of their permission to stay”, as indeed is provided by the Bossi-Fini legislation after six months of unemployment.

The agreement with Libya
During the hearing the President of the international group of unions, Luc Cortebeck, described the replies of the Italian Government as being “insufficient” and repeated several requests for clarification which had already been put forward by the Committee of Experts. These also included the request for clarification on the agreement with Libya, given that Convention 143 provides protection measures for the victims of abuse and human trafficking. By the end of September the Italian Ministry of Labour has to provide the ILO with “information about the legislative developments regarding the protection of migrant victims of abuse and exploitation, and about the setting up of a commission to identify actions to combat violence and exploitation against migrants”. It is difficult to say how Italy will be able to explain the policy of summary driving-back of migrants provided by the agreement. 

(La, 12 June 2009)

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