This article analyses the labour history of Italy's recruitment of workers for settlement in the Italian colony of Eritrea. The quest for full employment, both in Italy and within its nascent colonial ‘empire’, was the main driving force behind Italian colonialism in general. Italy's labour policy, which started to take shape in the 1890s, was never linear. Unlike the previous liberal Governments, the Fascist regime's policy was far more determined to use its colonies as places to settle the Italian peasant masses (the same that were migrating to the Americas for a better life, a trend which Fascist Italy considered humiliating to the mother country). In keeping with its vision of the colonies as a means to attain full employment, Fascist ideology characterised the Italian colonial empire as an ‘empire of labour’. In fact, the reality of the labour situation that Italian workers found themselves in after settling in Italy's African colonies would soon show the fallacy underlying Fascist colonial ideology.