Proposals for a new Jobs Statute

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The growth in Italy of new forms of employment relationship midway between dependent work and self-employment - "coordinated" freelance work and consultancy, for example - has raised the problem of protecting the rights of these categories of workers. While one segment of the labour force - wage- and salary-earners - is amply protected by labour law and trade union action, there is another which is left largely unprotected. This is the background to the Minister of Labour's September 1997 proposal for a new "Jobs Statute", which will introduce forms of protection for those in work without permanent contracts of dependent employment, thereby bringing these workers closer to the "insiders" - that is, wage- and salary-earners.

The Minister of Labour, Tiziano Treu, is preparing a new "Jobs Statute" (Statuto dei lavori), which was presented in early September 1997. The innovative aspect of this statute with respect to the existing Workers' Statute (Statuto dei Lavoratori), enacted in 1970, is that it concerns workers with an employment relationship midway between dependent employment and self-employment. This category comprises a variety of situations, such as consultancy and full- or part-time freelance work "coordinated" by an employer, which are very widespread in Italy, especially in the "advanced tertiary" sector (such as communications, information technology, business-related services) and in cooperative enterprises (for example, "working partners" - IT9708210F) but also in various industrial sectors (including publishing).

The proposal

The aim of the proposed new Statute is to provide some legal protection for workers in employment relationships of this type. Given that this is an area currently characterised by a total lack of regulation, it is proposed to define the fundamental rights of the worker - for example, freedom of association and trade union activity, health and workplace safety, maternity leave, equal opportunities - and to regulate such aspects as temporary or permanent lay-offs, the duration of temporary contracts, and pay.

Also envisaged is certification of the type of employment relationship (self-employment, dependent work, "coordinated" freelance work) on the basis of certain characteristics, such as the freedom or otherwise of the worker to fix his or her working hours and decide how to organise them, the nature of pay (fixed or performance-related), and so on. This certification will be issued by the Ministry of Labour's local-level Labour Offices (Uffici del Lavoro). This certification is important because, by specifying the type of employment relationship, it will enable definition of the rights and protection due to each worker.

The Labour Offices will also perform a control function: in particular, they must seek to settle disputes on the type of employment relationship.

Background

In terms of workers' rights, a sharp distinction is drawn in the Italian labour market between dependent workers, who are strongly protected, and the rest of workforce. The Labour Minister's proposed "Jobs Statute" aims to attenuate this difference; an issue which has become more sensitive since the expansion of new forms of work relationship. Moreover, this is an area that has been traditionally devoid of trade union representation.

However, there is no general agreement within the current parliamentary majority on how these matters should be regulated, and two different bills have recently been presented to Parliament in July 1997 before the Minister of Labour presented his own proposal. The first aims simply to extend the set of protections enjoyed by dependent workers to the new forms of employment; while the second seeks to introduce some rules, but without affecting the flexibility offered by these types of contract.

Commentary

In defining the rights attached to these new forms of employment relationship, it is necessary to strike a balance between regulation which may introduce rigidities on the one hand, and the flexibility characteristic of these new forms of employment on the other. One of the distinctive features of these forms of employment, in fact, is that the bond established with the firm is more temporary and unstable. Consequently, a stable core of personnel is flanked by employees on fixed-term contracts and with limited integration into the organisation.

A further crucial question is the heterogeneity of the situations covered by this new type of employment relationship. They range from highly-skilled professionals, who require less legal protection, to low-skilled young people working in substandard conditions. In the case of the former especially, a less constrained employment relationship not only provides the flexibility that the firm requires but also suits the preferences of the workers themselves.

For this reason, these new forms of employment constitute an area in which legal regulation is beset with difficulties. Such regulation, moreover, must be founded on principles different from those that have traditionally governed dependent employment in Italy. It seems that these considerations have formed the basis of the Jobs Statute, which, rather than defining rigid norms, aims to establish reference rules with a view to regulating flexibility.

The difficulty of regulating these matters is reflected in the different positions taken up within the parliamentary majority. The Labour Minister's proposed Jobs Statute occupies an intermediate position between that adopted by the proponents of rigid regulation and that adopted by the proponents of more flexible rules. (Marco Trentini, Ires Lombardia)

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