Vittoria, 720p HD movie, 10′ 28”, 2009. [w/t Takuji Kogo]
Vittoria is situated in the Province of Ragusa on Sicily. It is a center for cherry tomato production. Spread along a 100 km stretch of coast covered with sheet-plastic greenhouses.
Developments in industrial agriculture have made it possible to produce vegetables throughout the year. The most successful producers are able to ceaselessly cultivate high quality organic tomatoes and vegetables in large scale greenhouse complexes and distribute them all over Europe.
This industrialized system has enabled seasonal migrant tomato pickers from Tunisia to stay and work all year round. During the 1980’s and 90’s low-cost labour played an important part in the growth of the industry.
In between the many greenhouses are small brick buildings. These are homes to the migrant tomato pickers. They look like the stereotypical huts seen beside meadows in Sicily or found on the locations of spaghetti western films. But today they adorn satellite dishes.
However in recent years many of the Tunisian pickers have left the plantation huts and moved to apartments in the town. Some of them belong to the third generation of migrants. Some are involved in the recruitment of new laborers to the farms. They are often seen at the Ferry Port in Palermo welcoming new recruits and their families from Tunisia.
Today many migrant tomato pickers from the former eastern block countries have come for work at the plantations. These are mainly Romanians, but also some Poles, Albanians and Ukrainians. Many of which are no longer seen as illegal due to the expansion of the European Union*.
Regulations for working conditions on the plantations are often neglected. For example migrant workers usually work on 5 month seasonal contracts but stay on for another 3 months without pay, receiving unemployment benefit from the Italian government instead. Also the regulations on working hours are easily ignored since the pickers often live on site, making it possible to work day and night.
The black labour market has flourished due to the hard competition between the Tunisian and Romanian workers. This can be seen at the town square early each morning when migrant workers without contracts, standing in ethnic groups, wait to be picked up by farmers for day work.
Nearby there is a huge wholesale vegetable market which provides some of the best quality tomatoes in Europe. The area around Vittoria functions as one giant vegetable factory. Trailers and trucks owned by global distribution companies are continuously seen coming and going day and night.
*The Schengen Agreement was extended to include Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and has gradually been disassembling internal borders and checkpoints.