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Amnesty International denounces widespread exploitation of migrant workers in Italy

A new report from Amnesty International is alleging widespread exploitation of foreign migrant workers in Italy, saying they often receive less than the minimum wage and sometimes are not paid at all.

The international human rights group said Tuesday that two visits to Italy this year, mainly in southern farming areas, confirmed other studies that also found a "pattern of labor exploitation" of migrants across Italy. Amnesty said migrant workers are frequently paid much less than Italians doing the same job.

Migrant workers, both legal and illegal, work mainly in farming, tourism and construction in Italy.

The group credits Italian investigators for prosecuting some "extreme" cases of exploitation cases, but contends less serious abuses often go unpunished.

The report focuses on migrant workers from Africa and Asia.

"Amnesty International's research found evidence of instances of widespread and/or severe labor exploitation, in violation of Italy's obligations under several international conventions on labor rights, in particular wages below the minimum wage agreed between unions and employers' organizations, arbitrary wage/salary reductions, delays or non-payment of wages and long working hours," the report said.

The places researchers visited included Rosarno, a southern farm town notorious for a violent tensions between natives and migrants in 2010. At least 38 people were wounded in clashes, which began when two migrants were shot with a pellet gun in an attack the migrants blamed on racism.

Under a crackdown by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government, which included an anti-immigrant coalition partner, formal employment contracts are required before migrant workers can obtain residence permits. Thus migrants might feel pressured to accept unattractive job conditions in return for legal permission for themselves and their families to live in Italy.

"The employer's effective power to determine the worker's migration status can easily become a tool to intimidate or threaten workers, undermining their ability to negotiate better wages and working conditions," the report said.

Amnesty International's appeal for improvement of migrant labor conditions and laws risks falling on distracted ears.

Italy's Parliament is about to be dissolved ahead of early elections, and with many politicians campaigning for government stimulus to help spur jobs for Italians during a recession, migrant labor needs are unlikely to get much political attention soon.