Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

1.3. Instabilität und Zerfallsformen gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhänge: Soziale Ungewissheit, Unsicherheit und Prekarisierung
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Rolf-Dieter Hepp (Berlin)

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The Phenomenon of Increasingly Precarious Employment in Italy: Negative Effects of the Labour Market on Society

Marco Ricceri (Eurispes, General Secretary; Rome)


1. Italy Report 2005

Eurispes is Italy’s leading independent research institute. Every year, for the last twenty years, Eurispes publishes Italy Report which gauges the health of the nation and analyses the political, social and economic climate of Italy. Italy Report examines the main social issues and trends and is compiled with a methodological approach of system analysis. The Report is presented to the public every year and has become a respected and reliable barometer for decision, opinion and policy makers in the country.

For the last three years Italy Report has paid particular attention to the growing poverty and the condition of precarious employment. It has analysed the recent reforms of the labour market and the growing instability these reforms have produced among workers, young people, women and old people. The report studies the effects that the labour market is having on society and people's life choices.


2. Economic Crisis and Labour Market Reform

To fully understand the growing phenomenon of precarious employment and its impact on the job market and on society, two other aspects must be studied: the economic crisis and labour market reforms. Italy has suffered heavily from the economic crisis and stagnant productivity which have characterized Europe for the last few years. This negative economic situation further deteriorated with the introduction of the Euro and the enforcement of the Stability Pact agreed upon by EU members. The Pact is designed to contain inflation, spending and public debt of its member states. Italy has also felt the effects of labour law reforms introduced with the so called 'Biagi Law' (law no. 30/2003) which was approved in 2003 after years of conflict among political and social forces. The Biagi statute has dramatically altered the issue of governance on the labour market.


3. Statute no. 30 of 2003 "Biagi Law" Flexibility and Insecurity

The Biagi statute was masterminded by an economics professor from Bologna. As consultant to the Italian government, Biagi paid dearly for his reforms and was assassinated by the new Red Brigade terrorists for having radically modified the workings of Italy's labour market. The main objective of the reform was to 'rationalise' the rules of the entire labour market eliminating obstacles and barriers and defining a new set of fundamental rights for workers reflected in the amendments to the Workers' Statute. At the same time, Biagi worked on a Job Statute which offers updated job descriptions. The Job Statute outlines opportunities and aims to secure the employment of each individual worker in order to maximise the human capital component and enhance overall productivity. Every worker, according to the law, should be allowed to sign a work contract that reflects his employment needs. The law also aims to bring Italy’s huge black economy out into the open and promote a highly qualified service sector. The key word in the Biagi statute is flexibility. Only by adopting a flexible approach to labour can the Italian system respond to the current economic crisis and the pressures of globalisation.

These last two years have highlighted the effects of the Biagi statute. Although it has not been fully enforced, Italy’s main political and social forces are clamouring for amendments and modifications. In short, Italy is demanding that the law be amended, even before it has been fully enforced.

Although the labour market reforms have promoted and favoured flexibility, they have, ironically, led to a greater sense of social and job instability. The law which transformed the labour market has also transformed workers' personal income, it has affected workers' studies and education, it has even gone as far as undermining workers' health and security and lifelong projects. Biagi's reforms have fostered job insecurity which, in turn, is having a considerable impact on society.


4. A Definition of Precarious Employment

Precarious labour or job insecurity has a multidimensional character which makes it hard to measure. Estimates on the phenomenon of job insecurity reveal that about 25-30% of Europe's work force is affected. These estimates reach the 40-45% mark if we include the black economy and the emerging phenomenon of hybrid employment.

One definition of this phenomenon, given by Rodgers and Rodgers 1989 describes four different dimensions of precarious employment: the temporal dimension which measures the degree of employment continuity, the organizational dimension which looks at the possibilities a worker has to control or influence his job, the economic dimension which addresses salary and pay raises and the social dimension which studies legal protection, hiring, firing, discrimination, social security, insurance, illness etc...

A research project promoted and approved by the DG Research of the EU, ESOPE 2004, defines precarious employment as: a variety of forms of employment (e.g. temporary employment, under-employment, quasi self-employment, on-call work) established below the socially accepted normative standards (typically expressed in terms of rights, of employment protection legislation, and of collective protection) in one or more aspects (the four dimensions) which results from an unbalanced distribution (towards workers vs. employers, and amongst workers, which leads to the segmentation of labour) of the insecurity and risks typically attached to economic life in general and to labour market in particular.

Both the abovementioned definitions have been verified empirically and are used by social researchers as accurate parameters of the phenomenon.

Another phenomenon at large is atypical work. According to the ESOPE 2004 research, atypical jobs defy statistical definition and can only be verified by direct research in the field. However, no common reference points or criteria exist to interpret the data. In contrast, precarious employment refers to forms of employment which fall below a system of standards or norms and is easier to quantify and study.

By taking into account the multidimensional character of precarious employment and looking at the statistics, a picture of insecurity, uncertainity regarding work conditions, insufficient salaries and an overall lack of social protection emerges.


5. Precarious Jobs: European Report

The ESOPE Report 2004 of the European Union's DG of Research looks at the labour markets of France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. Almost a third of Spain's work force falls into the category of temporary or not permanent employment. This type of employment has become widespread including public administration. Great Britain has the highest rate for part-time work with 25% of its work force in this category while Spain only has 8%. It is hardly surprising that part-time work has become a structural feature of Great Britain's labour market. Another interesting fact that emerges from the report is that the majority of part-time workers were forced to accept this condition by their employers (79% in Germany, 73% in France, 59% in England and 46% in Italy).

Regarding low wage employment and the working poor, one out of 7 workers in Europe does not earn enough money to cover cost of living expenses. The working poor, who earn below poverty level, make up 8% of the labour market. (Eurostat no.11/2000 Low wage employees in EU countries)

Hybrid employment , a combination of self-employment and regular employment and not usually accounted for in statistics, is the choice for 6% of Italy's working population. Hybrid employment creates a sense of false autonomy in the worker.

The study estimates that an impressive 25% of all jobs in Europe can be defined as precarious or low quality jobs. In the European Commission's "Employment in Europe Report" 2001, low quality jobs have joined the ranks of precarious jobs. Spain registers 40% low quality jobs while Italy, Great Britain and Germany register 25%. Another growing category of employment in Europe is undeclared work which has been proved difficult to quantify.

In the "Employment in Europe Report" 2002 the EC reveals that less than a third of European workers were able to move from a low to a higher quality position during 1997-1998 (31% Italy, 30% Germany and 20% UK). The rest either continued in poor employment situations or were fired or laid off. Precarious employment is not a stimulus for better work conditions and only worsens the economic, social and political situation.


6. A Survey of Precarious Jobs in Italy

The publication of Italy Report 2005 by Eurispes highlights the drama of precarious employment among w orkers in the 18-39 age range. This section of workers, who fall into the flexible and atypical categories, were the main target of the labour reforms introduced in this country in 2003.

6.1 Permanent Precarious Employment

The research conducted by Eurispes reveals that precarious employment has become a mainstay of Italian life and in the last few years has consolidated a permanent structural position in society.

The 2004 survey shows that 60% of Italian workers declared to have always worked with atypical employment contracts and to have never been able to find a stable job or an indefinite work contract in the labour market. They admitted to having only been given contracts on a per-project basis, interim contracts and part-time contracts. This growing phenomenon affects 57% of young people between 18-25 and 67.8% of workers between 33-39 with little distinction between men and women. Atypical employment has become a permanent part of their working lives.

As participants of this prestigious IRICS international conference, Eurispes would like to contribute a vision of how the phenomenon of precarious employment affects people's life choices and their level of personal satisfaction and how the labour market ultimately affects society.

6.2 Life Projects on Hold

According to the people interviewed, ongoing job instability has had a negative effect on their life choices and projects for the future. Choices such as getting married, having children, leaving home, moving, buying a house, opening a savings account, getting a mortgage and even paying for further education are all seriously jeopardised. 71.3% of those surveyed said that having an atypical job had made buying a house virtually impossible given the difficulty in securing a mortgage. Even signing a rent contract or obtaining a loan from a bank proved difficult. 30-40% of those interviewed admitted that their employment situation had actually influenced their decision on having children. The risk of not being financially independent and ongoing job insecurity have been pivotal in people's life choices. For 66% of Italian workers, flexibility does not generate greater control of one's life. Quite the opposite - it interferes with future projects negatively and is now a source of existential angst. In short, Eurispes' findings confirm the thoughts of R. Sennett (1999) who questioned how one could pursue long-term ambitions in a short-term economy and how could an individual write his life story in a fragmented society?

6.3 Atypical Workers and Education

Eurispes ' research shows that long-term instability on the job market affects people with a university degree more than others. 55.9% of young people with an MA or higher specialization are affected by this phenomenon as are 83.2% of those with a BA. So, what is the attitude adopted by these young people when faced with the difficulty of finding gainful employment? Many students admitted that the solution was to stay on in the safety of the institution rather than face the instability of the job market. In 2002, 68% of graduates preferred to stay on for further specialization. The phenomenon of the "eternal student" staying on at school is growing, often paying for courses which he will probably never be able to use in the future.

Another interesting fact emerges from the research regarding continued education and training. 47% of those interviewed said they felt that this mode of employment led to a gradual 'dequalification' of their skills, while 40% thought that flexible employment was a means to enrich their skills.

6.4 Atypical Employment and Employers

Over half of the young workers in flexible jobs revealed that they had never worked with one employer for more than a year. Only 20% had worked in the same job for over a year. However, the market reforms that were intended to stabilise work relations are backfiring. 51.4% of those interviewed, who had been on the job market for 10 years and for 3 with the same employer, were still working with an atypical contract unable to secure a stable job.

6.5 Not Being Paid on Time

Being paid on time is another problem. 71% of workers with an atypical contract are paid regularly but all the rest have to wait anywhere between 3 months and 1 year to be paid. Women seem to be the most affected. Salaries are low and 3/4 of workers do not earn more than 1000 euros a month. This salary is their only source of income and obviously has negative effects on lifestyle and expectations. 30% of Italian women earn around 400 euros a month.

6.6- Unsatisfied and Unprotected

80% of workers claim they are not satisfied. They see themselves as underpaid and feel they are not protected or represented at social (illness, pregnancy, safety) or union (right to strike) levels. Women complain about low salaries and only 4.7% declared they were satisfied with their job. Only 37.7% of workers thought there was an inherent advantage in their job allowing them more time for family etc.

6.7 Stressed Workers

It is interesting to note that there are many stress and anxiety related illnesses among the 33-39 year old workers. Not having a stable job produced stress and anxiety in 46% and 16.2% claim to suffer from depression.

6.8 Young and Old Competitors

In addition to the precarious work environment, young workers have to contend with competition from older generations in the 55-65 year old bracket. Instead of retiring, many carry on working and take up jobs that might have been available to the younger generation. Moreover, and in light of the economic crisis, many retired people have gone back to the work place and so deprive younger people of potential employment.

6.9- New Levels of Poverty

The survey also gauges 'real' and 'perceived' levels of poverty among Italians. How do Italians view their quality of life? 51.4% of Italians felt that their salaries did not guarantee them a decent standard of living, with no concessions to luxury (Italy Report 2003). A 1999 EU report of 60,000 families in 14 member states confirmed that 71.4% of Italian families were suffering from economic hardship. Poverty strikes most at the middle level of society. Families who cannot make ends meet find themselves indebted. It doesn't take a lot to push these families to the brink; an illness, an accident or company crisis would be enough. The consequences of fluctuating poverty are taking their toll psychologically.


7. Concluding Remarks

Italy's labour market reforms were meant to promote flexibility and improve working conditions. However, they have produced greater job instability and insecurity making precarious employment a permanent structural feature of the system. Precarious employment is transferring its negative effects from the job place to society itself affecting people's life projects and creating existential anguish. Positive values which once guided society are now being seriously challenged: hope for the future, solidarity between people, the security procured by material goods, respect, responsibility, family values and concern for the wellbeing of future generations are fast becoming a thing of the past.

7.1 National Solution? European Solution?

One hypothesis to correct this situation could lie in reviving political platforms based on civil values, solidarity and responsibility. A European political project that can match the need to reorganise the economic and productive system with the needs of a new social system would be of great help. The challenge of a European Social Model capable of combining the different experiences of the member states and of rekindling the relationship between institution and citizen, should not be overlooked. A European Social Model designed to promote rights and delineate individual and collective responsibility. But even Europe seems to be blocked by its constitutional crisis and the weight of a dangerous situation of instability characterised by: 20 million unemployed, 70 million citizens on the threshold of poverty and 93 million citizens who are not economically active .

7.2 The Need to Intervene

The problem of instability must be contained. It is not hard to imagine the negative consequences this will have on democracy. The scientific community of Europe has been sending warning signals for some time now regarding the dangers of this phenomenon. It is now up to this community to find a way out, to lead the way to greater civil community between social groups and foster trust in a joint vision of future progress.

© Marco Ricceri (Eurispes, General Secretary; Rome)


EURISPES : Rapporto Italia 2002 ( Report on Italy 2002) Eurispes, Rome 2002

EURISPES : Rapporto Italia 2003 ( Report on Italy 2003) Eurispes, Rome 2003

EURISPES : Rapporto Italia 2004 ( Report on Italy 2004) Eurispes, Rome 2004

EURISPES : Rapporto Italia 2005 ( Report on Italy 2005) Eurispes, Rome 2005

EUROPEAN COMMISSION - Employment in Europe Report EC, Luxembourg 2002

EUROPEAN COMMISSION - Employment in Europe Report EC, Luxembourg 2003


EUROPEAN FOUNDATION : Third European Survey on Working Conditions EFIWLC, Dublin 2001

EUROSTAT : Low wage employees in EU countries EUROSTAT, Bruxelles 2000

Rodgers G : Precarious work in Western Europe.The state of the debate in Rodgers and Rodgers comp (1989)

Rodgers G and Rodgers J : Precarious Jobs in Labour Market Regulation: The Growth of Atypical Employment in Western Europe

International Institute for Labour Studies , Free University of Brussels, Brussels 1989

M. Ricceri : The European Social Model in Cuadernos Europeos, Madrid 2003

R. Sennett : L’uomo flessibile. Le conseguenze del nuovo capitalismo sulla vita perso Feltrinelli, Milano 1999

Website Italian Government : ( for the Law n. 30/2003)

1.3. Instabilität und Zerfallsformen gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhänge: Soziale Ungewissheit, Unsicherheit und Prekarisierung

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For quotation purposes:
Marco Ricceri (Eurispes, General Secretary; Rome): The Phenomenon of Increasingly Precarious Employment in Italy: Negative Effects of the Labour Market on Society. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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