Italy: the missed generation
Mon 10th Feb 2014
'Since I moved back to the south of Italy five years ago, I have been unable to find a paid job...when I worked in Milan, I had a paid job, but here... I have even been asked who my family is... Has this happened to you as well? It's impossible to find a job... either you are considered overqualified, or you are seen as an enemy'.
These words were spoken by Maria, a young lady who joined a Facebook group I created months ago to gain a better understanding of the Italian job market and to allow people to share their experiences and raise awareness on how the Italian job market is exploiting resources and professionals.
At the very beginning, people started sharing names and facts: “I have been working for this company for months. At the very beginning, they paid [me] regularly. So, when the first month they said they were late with the payment, I trusted them. At the end, they did not pay me for months and refused to pay for the work I did...”. When Sara shared her story, providing names and details, people stepped back and warned her and myself: “Pay attention, those companies may sue you – they have lawyers and more money than you have”. And these posts slowly disappeared, people refused to share experiences, even though I made the group private to grant everyone some privacy.
The truth is that the situation in Italy is getting desperate. Amongst those under 25, unemployment is as high as 40% with many of those in work underpaid and on short term contracts. People are unable to survive day to day in Italy. According to Alta Partecipazione, an organisation promoting workers' rights, workers on contracts currently earn around 672 Euros per month. In 2011, the average pay for workers on contracts was 816 Euros. Another fact is gender discrimination: woman are paid significantly less than men. Alta Partecipazione estimates there is an annual difference of 11,000 Euros between genders.
Last year, Italy's welfare minister, Elsa Fornero, approved new legislation to avoid interns being exploited which requires organisations to pay all graduate interns at least 300 Euros per month. However, since this law came into force Italian companies are now looking for undergraduate students who do not have to be paid even 300 Euros per month.
In the last five years, the number of Italians leaving the country has risen by 20% and those who leave are mostly young and mid career professionals aged 35-44, together with graduates aged 25-34 years.
'My partner has been working as an engineer at the same company since he graduated years ago without ever receiving a single bonus or pay rise', says Monica. 'When he resigned his boss offered him a higher salary and a better position, saying that what he was offering him now was his real value on the market. So why they did not care to tell him before he resigned?'.
No one is willing to pay workers their real value to keep them satisfied and motivated. Given the inexistent job market, anyone who has a job is happy to have one and companies do not care about keeping workers satisfied as there are many qualified professionals happy to accept any kind of contract. Short contracts, as short as a few weeks for qualified professionals that in UK could demand as much as £300 per day, are paid less than 1,400 Euros per month with no reimbursement of expenses such as travel costs. Not only is unemployment very high, skills and experience have lost their value.
A salary, no matter how low, is considered to be almost a privilege. Italy has no minimum wage as most European countries do. The welfare system is also underdeveloped compared to most European countries.
The Italian government's new financial plan that is expected to fix the economic situation proposed raising the taxation threshold to incomes over 12,000 Euros a year, but parliament decided to keep the threshold at 8,000 Euros per year.
It is not difficult to understand how such an uncertain climate is creating tensions, limiting individuals' freedom, reducing people to a state similar to modern slavery and leading to an increase of rage. While politicians waste time in useless internal discussions to preserve the status quo, the population is striving to find ways to pay the bills. In the nine months between January and September 2013, over 10,000 companies went bankrupt and the number of suicides due to debt is increasing. However, this goes mostly unreported by the mainstream media. Meanwhile MPs live far from such a reality with a monthly salary as high as 11,400 Euros plus benefits. (A UK MP is happy with about half such a stipend). The OECD released a report showing how senior managers working in the public sector in Italy are paid three times as much as their counterparts in the rest of Europe.
The growing gulf between Italian politics and the everyday lives of millions of people is creating mounting discontent and mistrust.
On November 15th 2013, Italian unions went on strike for four hours. The media coverage was limited and people calling for longer strikes were silenced.
Francesco was one of those individuals who spoke against such a short and useless measure: 'A 4 hour strike does not change a thing. We need to really show that we can not [put up] with anything anymore. And oddly enough, the unions who organised the strike are the same [ones] that are supporting the government and the new financial plan that does not work'.
People on Facebook commented that they were not ready to give up 100 Euros in pay to take part in the strike. 100 euros, in Italy today, can make a great difference and no one there believes in the power of a protest anymore.
Francesco shared his ideas with his colleagues in the company he works for. This led to him being called in by the HR department and his boss who both warned that it would be better if he kept a low profile because they are happy with his work. 'The good thing was that when I left the boss' office, my colleagues were there clapping their hands' said Francesco.
Some movements are trying to encourage debate about the political situation and are trying to suggest initiatives to support those who are unable to leave Italy or that choose to stay. Voglio Restare is one of this initiatives. The group wrote a letter addressing both PM Letta and Beppe Grillo, the leader of the 5 Star Movement: “We apologise, but we do exist for real! We are the temporary workers, 40% unemployed”. They wanted to draw attention to their situation and stop the continuous, useless and exhausting political debate. Almost 150 people signed a petition asking for a change. But the truth is that anyone who has the chance simply leaves Italy. And if they return, statistics show that they leave again within two years.
As sad as it may sound, there is no future in this country and no will to make a real change. Until the focus shifts away from politicians empty rhetoric, there is no hope. Having returned to Italy for a while, I can say that there are no opportunities there. The future for young workers lies elsewhere.