Maternity allowance introduced for 'freelance workers coordinated by an employer'

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'Freelance work coordinated by an employer'- a form of employment relationship midway between dependent employment and self-employment - has been growing in Italy, and now makes up 9% of all employment. In June 2002, parliament passed a decree which introduces maternity allowances for women engaged in this form of work - unlike women in dependent employment, coordinated freelance workers were not previously entitled to maternity benefit.

Employment on 'atypical' contracts is continuing to grow in Italy, though more slowly than in the late 1990s and to a lesser extent than employment on open-ended contracts. One of the most widely used forms of atypical employment is 'freelance work coordinated by an employer' (collaborazioni coordinate e continuative) - a form of employment relationship seen as midway between dependent employment and self-employment (IT0011273F). According to data from National Institute for Social Insurance (Istituto nazionale di previdenza sociale, Inps), this form of work accounted for around 1,900,000 jobs, or around 9% of all employment, in May 2001 (see Il lavoro atipico in Italia: le tendenze del 2001, working paper, Ires, January 2002). A special Inps social security fund was set up in the 1990s for those engaged in freelance work coordinated by an employer (TN0205101S).

Between 1999 and 2001, the number of women engaged in coordinated freelance work increased faster than the number of men - by 36% compared with 24% - and women now make up 45% of contributors to the Inps social security fund for workers of this type. The proportion of female coordinated freelance workers is particularly high in the southern regions of Italy, where 55% of contributors to the Inps fund are women, compared with 42% in the northern regions, despite the fact that this form of work is generally less widespread in the South. According to the abovementioned Ires report, this can be explained by the large-scale use in the South of coordinated freelance work in the personal services sector.

There is gender-based occupational segregation in coordinated freelance work, as in the labour market more widely. 'Typically female' occupations for coordinated freelance workers are in personal services, marketing, tourism, administrative services and translation, while male workers of this type are found predominantly in business consultancy, newspaper work, apartment block management and technical assistance. Furthermore, female coordinated freelance workers earn less than their male counterparts - while 55% of men in this form of work earn less than EUR 10,000 per year, 77% of women have earnings below this level.

New maternity allowance

As mentioned above, given the growth in coordinated freelance work, Inps has created a special social security fund for the workers involved, financed by contributions (recently raised from 10% to 14% of remuneration) paid in part by the employer and in part by the worker.

In June 2002, a decree was approved by parliament and published in the Official Journal (Gazzetta Ufficiale) which enacted the maternity provisions contained in the 2000 budget law (IT0001350F) and introduced a maternity allowance for female coordinated freelance workers. Female contributors to the Inps fund for whom at least three months' contributions have been paid during the 12 months prior to the start of their maternity leave are now entitled to receive a maternity allowance. This allowance is paid for a total of five months – the two months before the birth and the three months after. It amounts to 80% of the worker's average pay received during the 12 months prior to the beginning of maternity leave.

The decree has introduced some important changes. Previously, under a provision introduced in 1998, female coordinated freelance workers received a one-off maternity payment, which in 2000 varied between EUR 447 and EUR 1,778, according to the number of months for which contributions had been paid. The replacement of this payment with a maternity allowance means that the total amount of benefit has increased. Moreover, the new maternity allowance is also paid (for a period of three months) in the case of adoption of children under the age of six. Furthermore, there is now a paternity allowance which is paid should the mother die or suffer serious illness, or in the case of separation/divorce with custody of the child awarded to the father.

The trade unions have expressed great satisfaction at the introduction of the maternity allowance. New Work Identities (Nuove Identità di Lavoro, Nidil), the organisation for atypical workers affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italian del Lavoro, Cgil) stated that 'at last, after almost four years of trade union struggle, female coordinated freelance workers are entitled to maternity benefits on an equal footing with other women workers.' The Atypical and Temporary Agency Workers' Association (Associazione Lavoratori Atipici e Interinali, Alai) affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) has expressed the hope that introduction of the maternity allowance will be followed by a wider increase in the benefits paid to these workers out of the Inps fund that they themselves finance. To date, these benefits have been very limited: in 2000, for example, around 3,500 women received the maternity payment.

Commentary

The growth of atypical contracts in Italy has been accompanied by trade union action aimed at securing greater rights and protection for workers on such contracts (IT9807327F). The introduction of the maternity allowance is certainly a major step forward in eliminating discrimination between different categories of female workers. Previously, unlike women in dependent employment, female coordinated freelance workers did not enjoy protection in the event of maternity. Moreover, the former one-off payment for childbirth was more symbolic than practical.

The introduction of the maternity allowance also moves in the direction of using the Inps social security fund to provide more benefits for unprotected workers, something has hitherto occurred to only a very limited extent, provoking criticisms by the trade union confederations and especially their sections representing atypical workers. According to the unions, the increased social security contributions paid by coordinated freelance workers were not matched by improvements in the benefits available to them. (Marco Trentini, Ires Lombardia)

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