Pathways to regular employment

The project ‘In regola’ examines a wide range of good practices aiming to combat undeclared work and low health and safety provisions at company level. The most successful good practices devised by the social partners at company and especially at regional level jointly counter such issues. Strong regional differences are found. The existence of organised crime is a complicating factor in the effort to regularise employment and working conditions.

About the project

In the autumn of 2009, the Economic and Social Research Institute (Istituto di Ricerche Economiche e Sociali, Ires) presented the results of the project ‘In regola’ [According to the rules]. It was carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali) in partnership with Link Campus University of Malta and the consultancy company Elea, which developed mainstreaming activities such as seminars among the social partners, training packages and a movie entitled ‘Lavoro brado’ [Unregulated work].

The project aims to promote and mainstream health and safety at work in accordance with the 2007 reform of health and safety at work and subsequent unique text codification. It focuses in particular on the link between good health and safety standards, legality at work, corporate social responsibility and the role played by social dialogue both at company and local level among social partners and public institutions in promoting the improvement of employment conditions by means of 25 good practices. The project seeks to show that the fulfilment of legal standards in both employment and health and safety at work does not jeopardise the profitability of small businesses, especially in well-established labour-intensive sectors of economic activity, such as furniture manufacturing, agriculture, construction and personal services.

Regional differences

In order to take into account the strong regional differences in Italy, the project examined 25 good practices from five regions. The socioeconomic environment of these regions – Lombardy and Veneto in the north, Lazio in central Italy and Campania and Puglia in the south – is investigated in order to highlight different employment rates, the economic structure, the size and form of the undeclared economy, the level of respect for legal issues and the prevalence of illegal businesses compared with regular ones. A total of 10 practices focus on combating undeclared work, nine focus on promoting health and safety, three aim to increase job security for non-permanent workers, two pertain to corporate social responsibility and one concerns local development in a high technology cluster affected by substantial relocation to the Far East.

Urban regeneration in Naples

The project Company for Urban Regeneration Intervention in Naples (Società per le Iniziative di Recupero Napoli, S.I.Re.Na.) is promoted by the Municipality of Naples in the south of Italy and the local employer organisation representing the construction sector. It provides technical support to owners and joint-ownerships willing to renovate buildings prior to 1945, thus restoring both the historical centre and marginal areas according to rigorous architectural and town-planning standards. The consortium also provides a list of companies committed to regular employment, health and safety regulation and to denouncing any request of bribes and extortion (pizzo) from criminal groups linked to the mafia-like organisation the Camorra. Because of the higher cost, the municipality refunds at least 30% of the restructuring costs. Such guarantees are made effective by the annual safe enterprise (impresa sicura) award, and by a wide set of agreements signed from 1999 to 2007 between local administrations, the social partners, the bipartite Special Construction Workers’ Fund (Cassa Edile) and the related joint technical committee for health and safety.

Company and regional good practices

In Puglia, another southern region, both company-level and regional-level good practices are found. A subcontractor in the industrial district producing sofa sets, Arte Divano (see case study in Italian, 99Kb PDF), which operates in a monopsonistic regime, shows that it is possible to compete successfully with competitors suspected of using undeclared work, due to higher quality standards and a shorter response to product variability.

At regional level, Regione Puglia supports a partnership (in Italian, 142Kb PDF) of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade unions in promoting housing and transport services for migrant temporary workers in the agricultural sector. This partnership is then able to bring to farmers’ premises the daily workforce that they need, thus breaking a reliance on illegal work intermediaries (caporali).

Furthermore, in order to support a cultural change in favour of legality, the southeastern municipality of Bari launched an Agency for a non-repressive fight against organised crime (in Italian, 76Kb PDF) focused on research and mainstreaming actions in the most vulnerable areas of Bari. This agency was launched according to a 2007 agreement among local-level authorities, courts and the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca, MIUR), followed by a 2008 agreement with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). Although not directly aimed at combating undeclared work, such an agency plays an important role in promoting and supporting legality.

Examples in Rome and Milan

The wholesale food markets in both the capital city Rome (in Italian, 57Kb PDF) and the northern city of Milan (in Italian, 1.7Mb PDF) as well as the Milan fair (in Italian, 1.7Mb PDF) show a wide use of undeclared casual workers, who are often irregular migrants. A mix of increased controls by means of an entry pass, and health and safety promotion led to some improvement in the Roman food market. However, in Milan, outcomes were more uncertain because of the strong control of crime organisations using the market for drug trafficking. Further agreements at provincial level aiming to counter undeclared work and implement health and safety regulations in Milan’s main construction yards are currently ineffective because of their inactivity due to the economic recession.


The good practices show different patterns between southern and northern regions. The former are strongly affected by high unemployment and the pervasive presence of criminal organisations which control not only illegal activities but also legal ones. They do this according to various patterns, by imposing their rules – such as wages well below national labour agreements – on their local competitors; undeclared work is thus a way to further their control over the territory.

In the northern regions, social partners’ actions are more focused at company level, with the notable exception of the construction sector. Matters are thus somewhat less urgent with regard to the link between organised crime and activities with a high risk of undeclared work and a high risk to workers’ health.

Further information

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) has published a range of case studies on tackling undeclared work in the European Union, including in Italy.

Mario Giaccone, Cesos

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