Six held over exploited Italian female farmhand’s death

Andria (Italy), Feb 23 (IANS/AKI) Police on Thursday in southern Italy arrested six people over the death from exhaustion of female agricultural labourer Paola Clemente, who was paid just 2 euros an hour for a twelve-hour day.

Those arrested include the owner of the bus company that transported Clemente and other labourers 150 km each day to and from the farm in the Puglian town of Andria where Clemente worked.

Also arrested were three staff members from a local agency that employed Clemente, the bus company owner’s wife and a female ‘overseer’ at the farm, police said.

Clemente, a 49-year-old mother of three died of a heart attack while gathering grapes in baking heat in Andria, in Italy’s Puglia region, on July 13, 2015.

Clemente rose each day at 1.50 a.m. to catch the bus from San Giorgio Jonico in the province of Taranto to reach Andria at 5 a.m., where she worked until 3.30 p.m., according to investigators.

In a modern form of the notorious gang-master system, Clemente was exploited through bogus payslips that failed to declare the true hours she and her fellow labourers worked, and which excluded overtime and travel allowance payments, according to tax police.

Clemente and her co-workers received just 28 euros a day instead of the minimum 86 euros a day to which they were entitled, tax police investigators said.

The employment agency also dodged 48,000 euros of payroll taxes in just three months through its systematic payslip fraud, Italian daily La Stampa reported, citing tax police.

Thursday’s arrests followed a judicial probe of Clemente’s death begun in August 2015 after a police complaint filed by her husband Salvatore Arcuri and by Italy’s main trade union Cgil.

The probe, spearheaded by prosecutors in Trani, also came after an investigation of the case by one of Italy’s leading daily newspapers, La Repubblica.