ZENEVREDO – Hard-up Italians have increasingly taken the place of immigrant seasonal laborers in the vineyards this harvest season – and a new pilot project plans to increase the number even further.
In Oltrepo-Pavese, a wine region in northern Italy, the farmers’ union Coldiretti has launched an initiative called the “Harvest of Solidarity.”
The plan is to match up supply and demand for vineyard workers in the surrounding area and to create a base of local seasonal laborers who can be hired by farmers when needed.
Davide Stocco, 38, owner of a 10-hectare (25-acre) vineyard near Pavia, said he used the new Coldiretti system when three of the seven laborers he hired canceled at the last minute.
Unlike previous years, when Stocco hired mostly immigrants for the grape harvest, this year it is mostly Italians – many of them young and permanently unemployed.
“The harvest is not difficult work. Anyone can do it. These are almost all young people who want to learn and apply themselves,” he said.
“Let’s hope they want to continue.”
On the second day of harvest, Stocco said his new laborers had been working well, as they were seen snipping off bunches of grapes into large buckets.
“This is a helping hand we are giving to unemployed people here,” Stocco said.
“Italians did not want to work in the fields before and we had a lot of trouble finding labor,” he said.
“But these last two years, people have come back to do work like harvesting.”
Daris, 25, who studied for a job in hotels but has not managed to find one yet, said he might stay in farmwork.
“Why not? I like it here,” he said.
“In Italy, there is a real crisis. There are not a lot of jobs. You have to be happy with what you have,” he said.
Marinella, at 51 the oldest in the group, said she had lost her job when her company shut down a few years ago.
“At the moment there are not a lot of job opportunities and I’m not 20 any more and so I’m still looking. In the meantime, I am doing this,” she said.
“When you have a fixed job, you never imagine that one day you will find yourself doing the harvest,” she said.
“But when you don’t any more….”
For farmers, it works out cheaper to hire local hands than immigrant labor since they do not have to offer lodging.
A grape picker gets paid up to 1,300 euros ($1,750) a month gross.
Stocco pointed out there was also no language problem when hiring Italians.
But Claudio Milani, a representative for Coldiretti, said the project had nothing to do with the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Northern League political party, which is well established in the region.
“We have nothing against people coming from abroad,” said Milani, who is based in Pavia, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Milan, Italy’s economic capital.
“If we help local laborers, we are helping the local economy,” he said.
Launched this summer, the project has proved a victim of its own success.
About 200 people applied for jobs in the harvest season but only around 50 of them were found jobs by organizers.
“Italians used to be reticent about doing this kind of work,” Milani said.
“But now their perceptions are changing a bit, especially young people.”