Workers in the Shadows: Tomato pickers in Sicily

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“Workers in the Shadows” is a photo essay documenting life conditions of workers/ farm hands in Ragusa province, Sicily.

In 2008, Europe opened its borders to Romania. Sicily, with its extensive lands dedicated to agriculture, soon became – among Romanians – the nearest paradise to reach. In the recent years, local farmers of Vittoria township  have in fact converted their traditional  tomato cultivation into greenhouses complexes, enhancing the production and prolonging the harvesting to the entire year. By word of mouth Sicilian lands became an attractive opportunity for migrants. However besides creating legal employment, the exploitation of human resources also became a practice for a number of landowners.

Between the worker community of workers, there are young and unaccompanied Romanian, orphans and families with children. All of them came chasing the Italian dream of a better life. The majority of them becoming tomato pickers and apparently, as a few of them claim, dealing with their situation well enough. Even though they earn an average of just 25 euros a day, working for 10-12 hours to keep a roof over their head. Without a contract nor any legal rights, they say that it’s still better than staying in their country.

Sexual abuse perpetrated by a few of the farmers have spread in recent months, and these cases are now under investigation by local authorities. In a condition of such isolation and where code of silence is an established practice, abuses can be easily hidden. Fear of retaliation, furthermore, makes victims reluctant to report harassment.

A local charity is offering legal support and emergency hospitalization for work related injuries. The whole situation is fueled by a series of factors: Italy is tackling an economic crisis which has produced a broad scale scarcity of jobs. Migrants are then easily exploited in exchange for a quick- and bureaucracy free employment. They often end with an illusory deal.

Ragusa, Italy. April 2015

Mandatory credit: Francois Razon / UnFrame