Italy: an economy based on free labour

July 2, 2013 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

A leading phenomenon of the Italian job market is the ability of employers to rely on voluntary work. Small and big companies are calling professionals and asking them to offer their services for free. Such a practice has actually been going on for years. In the past, the least paid jobs were in the field of communication. Journalists used to be invited to write for free to get some exposure and hence establish their names. Young journalists accepted the offer to work for free until they realised that once you start working for free, no future employer would ever want to pay you to work in future. As soon as someone dared ask to be paid for their work, they were easily replaced by younger writers looking for visibility.

Now such a practice has spread from journalism to other sectors. Free labour equals greater savings, and hence profits, for employers. Recently, a young Italian television journalist published a job advert on her Facebook page that sought an IT expert for a “world changing project”. Needless to say, the advert was for an unpaid job. On 13thJune, Giulia Innocenzi, a young and rather famous journalist, published this notice on her Facebook page:

“Wanted: IT experts who want to change the world. Are you a geek who wants to use your skills for a good cause that can generate a lot of benefits for those in need? Are you willing to spend some time on a new project kicking off in June and July? And would you like to do all this for free? If the answer to these questions is Yes, you are the right person for the best project ever! I cannot write more because ideas should first be implemented and then explained. If you are interested, send me an email and tell me who you are.”

The most incredible thing is that on 17th June, Ms Innocenzi updated her page saying that 232 people had applied for the position. 232 IT professionals who are willing to work for free.

Such a job offers are creating much debate in Italy as people realise that most professionals today are considered voluntary workers and are happy just to have work. Until professionals stand up for their rights and demand the respect they deserve nothing will ever change. Currently, professionals and consultants are regularly called by companies and key players and asked for their services. Yet when the question of pay arises, the answer is always vague and the refrain is always the same: “Well, we did not budget for that.”

The question is how and why employers can be so bare faced to get in touch with professionals, some with many years of experience who have invested time and resources to build up their skills, and ask them to offer their services for free?

The whole stagnant economic situation in Italy is led by such an attitude, based on a lack of respect and self-respect: how can qualified and experienced professionals accept such terms?

It’s not even a modern slavery, as those who agree to work for free have the choice to refuse. Yet, they accept, rather than do nothing. But something must be done and Italian professionals should oppose such a situation by refusing such offers. Only stopping such a spreading practice can change things.

If professionals keep accepting such modern self-inflicted slavery conditions, the whole job market will be – and actually is – dramatically affected: companies and organisations will cease looking for qualified and experienced professionals and will rely on what is available for free on the market, selecting the cheapest solution rather than the right one.

The consequences will manifest through a lack of innovation, investment and change in the economy.

It is appalling how in times of crisis, organisations take advantage of the situation by showing a total lack of respect for skilled workers.

This is a subtle form of slavery which recognises that most people like to feel they are contributing through carrying out some form of work. Those offering to work for free do not realise that they are inflicting immense damage on their peers.

This bunch of free workers are forcing other experienced and skilled professionals to offer their skills to external markets where their professional work will be valued and appreciated.

This is creating a skills drain in Italy. The Registry of Italian citizens residing abroad recently revealed that the number of Italians emigrating increased by 30% in 2012, from 60,635 in 2011 to 78,941 in 2012. The new emigrants are aged mostly between 20-40 years and mostly come from Lombardy, one of Italy’s richest industrialised regions.

This presents a picture of a country which is slowly crumbling as young people are fed up by the overall situation and looking for opportunities abroad where they can use their skills and talents to receive a decent wage for a decent days work.

Italy cannot afford to continue to lose its skills base and its potential future leaders.


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This post was written by Patrizia Bertini

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