Structural change creates more low-skilled jobs and worker dissatisfaction

Quality of work indicators in Italy show employees have become increasingly less happy since 2004. A new report on well-being at work highlights structural changes in the Italian workforce. These include an increasing proportion of lower-skilled jobs and fewer skilled positions, more workers doing jobs for which they are over-qualified, fewer permanent employment opportunities and poor work–life balance. Even so, job satisfaction remains quite high in a number of areas.


A new report published by Italy’s National Institute for Statistics (Istat) in cooperation with Italy’s tripartite National Economics and Labour Council (Cnel) looks at the health and well-being of workers in Italy. The 2013 Equitable and sustainable well-being report (BES) attempts to assess the impact on workers’ health and on social issues such as inequality of factors not measured by gross national product statistics.

Chapter 3 of the report focuses on well-being at work and work–life balance using indicators drawn from various Istat surveys including the Labour force survey (2.44MB PDF, in Italian), national accountancy surveys, the Time use in daily life survey and the Families and social subjects survey.

Non-permanent workers

The report considers job quality through indicators such as job stability, pay levels and how a job matches a worker’s qualifications. It also considers inequalities among gender, age-groups, geographic areas and nationality.

The report found that non-permanent workers made up 12% of the entire workforce and 21% of the female workforce. Transition in the labour market from temporary to permanent positions had declined from about 26% in 2004–2005 and 2007–2008 to 20.9% in 2009–2010 and was even lower (18.3%) among women.

Among non-permanent workers, one in five had done the same job on a non-permanent basis for at least five years, placing them in what the report describes as a ‘precariousness trap’. The proportion of workers in this position declined slightly from 20.9% in 2004 to 19.2% in 2011, and was at its lowest in 2008 (18.3%).

Women report lower transition rates into stable employment than men, although the gender gap in this area declined from 9.5% in 2004–2005 to 5.1% in 2010–2011. Higher permanency rates were reported among women in non-permanent labour contracts (Figures 1 and 2) increasing from 0.2% in 2004–2005 to 2.8% in 2010–2011.

Figure 1: Share of non-permanent workers moving into a permanent position after 12 months (%)

Figure 1: Share of non-permanent workers moving into a permanent position after 12 months (%)

Source: Istat Labour Force Survey, 2013

Figure 2: Share of non-permanent workers in current position for at least five years by gender (%)

Figure 2: Share of non-permanent workers in current position for least five years ago by gender (%)

Source: Istat Labour Force Survey, 2013

‘Overskilled’ workers

The number of workers with a tertiary or secondary qualification doing jobs for which they were over-qualified increased from 16.5 % in 2004 to 21.1% in 2010. Differences between men and women increased over time, to the detriment of women, from 1.8% in 2005 to 2.8% in 2010.

Both overskilling and the gender gap are amplified in the case of non-nationals. Among this group the proportion of overskilled workers increased from 36.1% in 2005 to 42.3% in 2010, and among women, the proportion rose from 44.4% to 51.1%, with a 15.1% gender gap, highlighting both the lack of recognition of qualifications earned in a worker’s country of origin and the prevalance of low-skilled positions among these workers.

Figure 3: Overskilled by gender and nationality (%)

Figure 3: Overskilled by gender and nationality (%)

Source: Istat Labour Force Survey, 2013

Job satisfaction

The 2009 wave of Istat’s Families and social units survey gathers data on a job satisfaction indicator based on a scale of 0–10. On the scale, a score of 6 or 7 is ‘fairly good’, and scores of 8, 9 and 10 are ‘good’ and ‘very good’; scores below 5 are negative. Asked whether their jobs were interesting, almost two in three (62.9%) respondents gave scores of 8–10 (‘interesting’ or ‘very interesting’), and similarly high scores were given for questions about satisfaction with job stability and commuting (55.2%).

The lowest scores are seen in responses to questions about satisfaction with working hours (46.7% giving an 8–10 score) and earnings (29.7% giving an 8–10 score). These figures are not broken down by gender.

The findings fit with those of the 2010 Quality of work survey carried out by the Institute for the Development of Vocational Training for Workers (Isfol) and another Isfol survey carried out in 2012, The job satisfaction, expectations and motivations of Italian workers (in Italian, 663KB PDF). However, in the 2012 survey, satisfaction about earnings and career prospects is far lower. Figures show 54.2% of respondents were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with earnings, while 58% were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their career prospects.

Figure 4: Satisfaction with aspects of job (%)

Figure 4: Satisfaction with aspects of job (%)

Scores given by respondents on a scale ranging from 0 (lowest level of satisfaction) to 10 (highest level of satisfaction)

Source: Familes and social subjects survey, Istat


The BES report provides further evidence about the critical structural aspects of quality of work and employment in Italy. As also highlighted by the 2012 Isfol annual report (2.52MB PDF), it reflects the structural change that has taken place in the Italian labour market with an increasing share of low-skilled positions and fewer high-skilled ones.

Similar findings also emerge from comparison of past waves of the Isfol Quality of work survey and the Bank of Italy’s 2012 analysis, Household wealth in Italy, based on its Survey of Household Income and Wealth.

Mario Giaccone, Ires

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