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Workers forced to move 10,000 books in a shift

Pavia - Ten thousand books to be moved in one shift, ‘weekly’ contracts renewed for years, 200 hours of overtime per month, systematic violations of every labour right. These were, according to 300 workers’ stories, the working conditions reported by a study into ‘caporalato’, a kind of illegal job brokerage

Pavia - Ten thousand books to be moved in one shift, ‘weekly’ contracts renewed for years, 200 hours of overtime per month, systematic violations of every labour right. These were, according to 300 workers’ stories, the working conditions reported by a study into ‘caporalato’, a kind of illegal system of job brokerage, in one of the largest publishing industry logistical centres in Europe, near Pavia, a facility that serves the major Italian publishing houses: “I had to move 10,000 books per shift, it was an back-breaking job. At night, my boyfriend always saw me crying because I was hurting everywhere, with particularly severe pains in my arms and legs. Later I was treated at the San Matteo hospital for various conditions.”

This is the testimony that a worker gave to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Provincial Command of the Financial Police in Pavia during the investigation that led to the arrest on 27 July of twelve persons accused of labour exploitation, as well as tax fraud.

The investigations, which focused on depositions made by Italian and non-Italian workers, who were initially very reluctant to speak out of fear of retaliation, concerned the 40 cooperatives present in the logistics area of CEVA in Stradella, which has been renamed “Book City” precisely because it is a centre for the storage of books and newspapers for the most important publishing houses. Cooperatives, which through a series of corporate screens, could really be traced back to a single group of people: “The rhythms of work were untenable”, was another worker’s story, “I have to run all the time, I’ve lost many kilos. I run so much that my trousers are falling down, but I have to accept the conditions because I have two daughters to support. Now I want to cooperate, I will tell you everything, but I am afraid of losing my job, as has already happened to a colleague. At CEVA, a form of unspoken blackmail is applied. Formally no one requires you to do the extra hours, but if you don’t do it there is a high chance of being left at home. Shifts last an average of 12 hours.” In the plant, the workers explained, productivity was evaluated on the basis of “lines” completed per day, where “lines” meant “moving two books per minute”. “I had to run at least 130 ‘lines’ per day,” says another worker, “those who do less lose their jobs. Each shift involved 12 hours of regular work, and when I was no longer able to cope with these heavy shifts, having to care for my disabled mother, I was fired.” “For seven years I worked with term contracts always lasting three months,” reveals a Romanian woman, while others even talk about “weekly renewals” at the so-called “picking department” (warehouse management and logistics). Night and overtime hours, according to the workers, were always paid at the same rate, which some indicated was seven euros per hour. Overtime, before 2016, when the trade unions came into the plant and the situation “improved a little”, consisted of “more than 200 hours per month”, often not counted in pay slips. A Ukrainian worker said, “Some days a sign was hung up that read, ‘Absolutely mandatory Saturday and Sunday work’. On the notice board where the shift assignments were displayed, only the beginning of the shift was indicated, while at the end of service time the letters ‘F.S.’ were written. (for ‘fine servizio’ or ‘end of work’)”. The Preliminary Investigations Magistrate who ordered the precautionary measures summed up the situation: “Clear, precise and consistent elements have emerged regarding the illegal intermediation and exploitation of workers, the recruitment of workers to work at CEVA under conditions of exploitation, taking advantage of the workers’ state of need and the payment of wages in a manner clearly at odds with national and regional contracts stipulated by the trade unions, repeatedly violating the regulations on working hours, rest periods, and holidays in total disregard of labour rules and health and safety.”

(Credit: Angelo Ciocca)

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