Inbox7 among Macedonian workers in Italy: Grape picking from dawn to dusk for 50 Euros per day (Part 1)
Grape picking in Piemonte in Italy is in full swing. On the plantations of about 70,000 hectares tens of thousands of Macedonian workers are picking grapes. In the end the owners of the vineyards will make hundreds of thousands of Euros, and our workers will bring home no more than 200-300 Euros
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Thursday morning. On the grand piazza in Canelli, or as some of our workers call Kocaneli, the sun is rising. Here you will see more people from Kocani than in Kocani at the moment, although the town of Canelli is four times smaller than Kocani.
People in old clothes and old vans are transported to nearby vineyards. The image that I saw associates me to the Macedonian cult film “Trieste via Skopje” from 30 years ago. The destination is the same, Italy. Only work and time are different.
The number is also different. The film presented about 20-30 adults and children begging in Trieste, while our workers who pick grapes are perhaps 20,000 in all Piemonte area, covering also the Canelli municipality.
I saw people with cardboards and tents in the center of Canelli just like in the movie, but when I asked around I was told that they were Bulgarian Roma and they slept there in the square during the harvest. I was happy that there was not a fellow citizen among them.
It is not that some of our workers do not have bad living conditions during the harvest, they also have, but they are out of town.
“We live in an old abandoned house that is outside the settlement, 3 km from Canelli. Inside we are 25 people in 4 rooms. We have only one laundry and share one bathroom. The conditions are terrible”, said a person from Delcevo who is forced to live in this house, unless he wants to share the fate of the Bulgarian Roma who sleep in the square.
We will bear these 20 days, the period of harvest, adds our interlocutor.
Macedonians do not want to talk much about their grape picking life, so for a few days your reporter was forced to pick grapes with them in order to reach their experiences, the reasons that made them perform manual labor on Italian plantations, how much they earn, life.
Macedonian workers enjoy a good reputation at Italian employers
Macedonian workers are valued and sought at Italian owners. I felt it when I went to one of them. For Paulo some of the best workers in the region are Macedonians. This was confirmed by his wife who said that Italians did not work at all.
The example of the 50-year-old Dencho Stoimenov from Delcevo village Zvegor confirms this. He has been coming here for five years and whenever there is work, he works for Paulo.
“I lost my job in Macedonia. I worked for 22 years as a driver in Granit, but now I do not do anything. My wife also has no stable job, and I have two children at school that I need to support. So I must come here and earn for a piece of bread”, says Stoimenov.
The situation is similar with his colleague from Delchevo, who wanted to remain anonymous.
“I have many relatives here in Canelli, I have a brother, sister-in-law, my husband’s sister and every year for the harvest I come here to earn some money. I sleep at their house and do not pay for accommodation, so more money remains”, says our interlocutor.
Per diem of these people is 50 Euros or 5 Euros per hour. They work 10 hours, hard physical work. There is only one hour lunch break from 12 to 1 pm.
Earnings from the grape picking is as an average Macedonian salary
Average earnings of our workers in Italy are not higher than the average Macedonian salary. Grape picking lasts for less than 30 days. Gjorgji from Stip says that grape picking in Italy is “trend spotting”, it is not that they will earn a lot.
“This is my last year I come here. I will earn the same money in Macedonia with this pace of work. Unlike here, in Macedonia I will work eight hours, not 10. Back home I will work in enclosed and air-conditioned rooms, while here I am in the open”, says Gjorgji who has been coming in Italy for seven years, but he adds that next year the conditions will be worse, and more and more people come.
“In the first years employers accommodated us in their houses, we had lunch and the money remained for us. Now, there is no such a thing”, Gjorgji complains.
He had 16 working days and earned 800 Euros. But Gjorgji’s mathematics does not stop here.
“With this money I have to pay 180 Euros for the apartment, 150 for transport from and to Macedonia and another 300 Euros for food. 200 Euros will remain, money which in a month I will earn in any Stip clothing, and even in “Johnson Controls” they have such salaries”, says Gjorgji.
The problems of Vanco from Kocani are even greater.
“I have been working for nine months and the boss owes me 4,000 Euros. Every day I think how get my money”, says Vanco.
He adds that the boss’ excuse is that Italians he worked for did not pay to him.
A great fighter for improving the rights of Macedonians working in agriculture in Canelli is Ilona Zaharieva, owner of the worker cooperative Lavorare insieme, and at the same time president of the Macedonian-Italian Association for collaboration “Stone Bridge”.
“I want to make an association of cooperatives, not to confront and reduce the price of labor. We, Macedonians should ourselves put labor cost here in Italy. It is the only way to succeed. Disorganization of our cooperatives in this part of Italy can cost our workers a lot. Prices are reduced, bosses agree work where workers are not insured, no pension, no health, after 20 years none of these workers can take a pension”, says Zaharieva.
It remains to be seen whether Zaharieva will solve Vanco’s problems by joining Macedonian cooperatives. Otherwise, she adds, in Canelli and surrounding sites seasonally come around 5,000 Macedonians. Three weekends before the harvest, 6 buses on average come every weekend.
Otherwise in Canelli there are 17 Macedonian worker cooperatives. Most employees in the cooperatives are Macedonians, more than 95%. There are Bulgarians and Romanians, too. Only in Canelli, 2,000 people can work through cooperatives.