Indesit, Italy: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – early school-leavers
Since 1998, Indesit has been running a project which offers work placement to young people who are mainly early school-leavers and also young offenders. The ‘Jonathan’ project is named after the non-profit organisation which provides young offenders with an alternative to prison. To begin with, the young people are employed on a fixed-term employment contract, following which they may continue the usual route adopted by other workers who are on open-ended contracts.
Indesit, formerly Merloni, is one of the three leading domestic electrical appliance manufacturers in Europe. In terms of market share, it is the second in Europe and the fifth worldwide. From an organisational perspective, the group tends to centralise executive and strategic activities in Italy and decentralise strictly commercial functions. At present, the group has 18 manufacturing plants, mainly located in Europe. Italy has eight production facilities. So far, the ‘Jonathan’ project has been launched in three of the Italian facilities. The project was first introduced at the production plant in Caserta (Carinaro, Teverola) in the southern region of Campania and was then launched in two units of the production centre of Fabriano (Albacina, Melano) in the Ancona region in central Italy. In Europe, Indesit employs around 17,284 workers; the production plant in Caserta numbers about 1,250 employees, about 350 of whom are women. Indesit is a member of the National Federation of Electrical and Electronic Enterprises (Federazione Nazionale imprese elettrotechniche ed elettroniche, Anie Federazione), affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Industry Confindustria.
Worker and management representatives affirm that the industrial relations context is a cooperative one. The average unionisation rate in Italy is about 50%–55%, while the rate in the Caserta plant is much higher at almost 90%.
In Fabriano, the project was set up with the support of the Agenzia Italia Lavoro: a joint-stock company, wholly-owned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance. It operates, by law, as a technical agency of the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity and other central government departments promoting and managing actions in the field of employment, social inclusion and labour market policies.
Description of the initiative
The initiative began in 1998 when some representatives of a non-profit organisation went to Indesit’s production units in Caserta requesting some household appliances for their community, the Jonathan Association. As a result, the project was named after the association, which represents an alternative to prison for young offenders. Since Indesit makes substantial use of seasonal labour, the human resources (HR) manager of the production unit in Caserta launched the idea of offering work placements to some of these young people. The Indesit Caserta production unit and the Jonathan association signed an agreement binding the company to provide a special purposes grant for each person employed and the association to ensure its commitment. Besides this grant, the agreement also specifies the role of an internal tutor, who is a voluntary worker of the association and who has previously been part of the community as well. In cooperation with the management of the Caserta plant, the tutor has the task of supporting the young people in all those activities relating to their social integration, administrative procedures and employees’ motivation. The tutor is hired on a fixed-term employment contract.
Most of the young people involved in the initiative left school early and have had only limited experiences in the labour market. The selection of participants is carried out by the association, which tends to take into consideration not only young people of the Jonathan community but also those indicated by juvenile courts, local social services or the Airola prison nearby Caserta. The selection criteria are mainly based on the motivation of the potential participant and on their real chances of complying with the work commitment.
At the beginning of the project, all of the young people were placed in the same department of the production unit, since both the company’s management and the workers’ representatives were unsure of the reaction of the other workers. In a region characterised by high unemployment, the idea of providing employment for young offenders was hard to accept for people who had experienced the devastating impact of unemployment on their families. Due to the support of the workers’ representatives, who were immediately informed about the project by the Caserta plant management, and their efforts in raising awareness concerning the importance of helping people at risk of exclusion, the company’s workers’ started to accept the newcomers. In fact, the trade unions played a fundamental role in the integration process of the young workers into the workplace.
Both groups of workers received the same treatment. After a certain period of fixed-term contracts, and in the case of a stable increase in the production volume, the new workers’ contracts were converted into open-ended employment contracts. This happened on the grounds of criteria based on the length and duration of service, which were laid down in a local agreement signed by the local management in Caserta and the local trade union.
In relation to vocational training, the young workers attended the same courses as those envisaged for Indesit’s existing workforce; no training course specifically targeted the newcomers.
The good practice developed in Caserta has also been tested in the production centre in Fabriano. The company’s management, on the basis of the positive results achieved, decided to extend the experience to other production units further away from the location of the Jonathan Association in Naples. The project in Fabriano has involved 10 people, who were placed within the framework of six-month training apprenticeships in the production centre. During the six months, they received a special purposes grant worth €800 a month. Following completion of the training, some of them managed to find work in the Ancona region while others went back to Indesit’s production units in Caserta. The project in Fabriano has been carried out in cooperation with Agenzia Italia Lavoro. The latter subsidised to a great extent the roll-out of the project in Fabriano, by covering accommodation and food expenses, transport costs in order to allow the young people to stay in touch with their families and all the costs relating to the tutoring and monitoring activities of the Jonathan Association.
With regard to monitoring the project, the management of the Caserta plant, the tutor and the head of the Jonathan community liaise on a daily basis and, once a month, they schedule a formal meeting. In the Fabriano production centre, the trade union also participates in monitoring the project’s progress.
Since its inception, almost 80 young people have been involved in the Jonathan project, most of whom were placed at Indesit’s production units in Caserta. To date, four of the young people (three men and one woman) who had a fixed-term contract have been regularly employed by Indesit through an open-ended contract, pursuant to the agreement signed at the plant in Caserta. A further two people from the community are due to be employed through open-ended contracts. The young people are often unable to stay on for a long enough period to satisfy the criteria for an open-ended contract: some of them find another job and others leave the work experience as they are summoned to serve out the remainder of their prison sentences.
Along with the management of the Fabriano production centre, local employer organisations began to discuss the initiative with a view to extending its implementation to other companies. The municipality of Naples, together with the Jonathan Association, has organised a number of seminars and congresses to inform a large number of stakeholders and potential partners about the project. These meetings also help to overcome the existing bias that considers a young person of the Jonathan community as an antisocial figure who needs to be reintegrated into society.
The key elements for the project’s success lie within the commitment of the non-profit organisation in selecting the right people to place at work, the company’s willingness to hire people considered ‘difficult’ and the workers’ representatives in appraising the ethical aspects of the initiative among Indesit’s workforce.
Exemplary and contextual factors
Indesit’s industrial policy has always been inspired by the idea of sustainable development, summarised in the founding father’s philosophy: ‘In every industrial initiative, economic success is of no value unless there is also a commitment to social progress.’ The Jonathan project is in line with this strategy, since it seeks to give work to those people who are at greatest risk of exclusion. The company is committed to increasing the visibility of its project results.
Davide Dazzi, Fondazione Istituto per il Lavoro, Bologna