Moroccan woman helps Arabic workers in Italy

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A young Moroccan woman is helping labourers from her country know their rights Southern Italy's Battipaglia. Thanks to her Arabic-language skills Sara Moutmir is helping break down barriers between Moroccan workers and Italian society. STORY-LINE Just before darkness falls, agricultural workers leave the fields near Battipaglia, a large town located 77 kilometres (47 miles) from Naples, at the end of a work day. And as the men and women ride home on their bikes, the work of union officials begins. Sara Moutmir and Giovanna Basile approach the workers and talk to them about what their union and Italian laws can do for them. Basile - who heads FLAI-CGIL (the Federation of Agro-industries' Workers) says that 27,000 labourers work in this area's agricultural fields, according to data by Italy's National Insurance (INPS). Of them, 60 percent are foreign workers of whom 30 percent don't have a work permit. Many labourers come from Morocco, Romania and India and are employed in these fields, which are famous for producing a great variety of vegetables, including tomatoes. Workers are often in need of assistance, from renewing their work permits to applying for maternity leave and unemployment benefits, according to Basile. Braving the cold November weather, Moroccan-born Moutmir assists Basile in communicating with workers in their own language. Labourers in possession of a regular work permit are able to knock on the door of the FLAI-CGIL offices in Battipaglia whenever they need work-related help. When they're not approaching workers near the fields in what they call "street union" activity, Moutmir and Basile continue their job at the FLAI-CGIL Salerno region office in Battipaglia. Papers in hand, it's here that the two women, as well as their colleagues, offer assistance to migrant workers. This can be anything from helping with complex legal cases to simply filling out documents in Italian. For 21-year-old Moutmir it's paramount that her fellow Moroccans feel free to approach the organisation when they need someone to turn to. "It's important for us to explain to them (Moroccan workers) how to renew their work permit, how we can help them to explain work documents (in Italian). We help them with their work-related problems and they need to understand that our office is like their home. Should they have any needs, they need to come to us, to our home where they'll get help," Moutmir says. Basile says that FLAI, a branch of Italian Workers' Party CGIL, helps not just agricultural labourers but also those employed in other fields. Bahia Lahboub, a caregiver from Morocco, turned to the union to renew her work permit and later consulted with FLAI-CGIL experts about family benefits. Lahboub, who has been living in Italy for the past ten years, says Moutmir is helping change perceptions and attitudes toward the Moroccan community. "Sara's presence is a source of joy for everyone. Especially because - as a young Moroccan girl who reached such an important position after her studies - she changed the Italian and European point of view toward Moroccans", Lahboub says. Moutmir has been living in Italy since 2001, when she and her mother relocated from Morocco to join her father. She has been an associate at FLAI-CGIL Salerno for the past two years. The Moroccan woman stresses that she's doing all she can to empower migrant workers and let them know that they're not alone. Basile recounts that she first noticed Moutmir when her mother turned to the union's office. Soon after, Basile asked Moutmir's mum if she'd let her daughter work with FLAI-CGIL. Sara's been here ever since. (AP Archive)