Changing profile of working time flexibility

The second ad hoc Labour Force Survey module on atypical labour contracts and working time, carried out in 2004, reveals significant changes in the take-up of flexibility options. A previously widespread use of overtime has been replaced by part-time contracts and working time flexibility. It is mainly women who avail of part-time work, although in general part-time work is less prevalent in Italy than in the EU in general. With regard to working time flexibility, workers still have little control over their working time arrangements. These changes seem to be more influenced by the 1997 labour market reform and stagnant economic performance than by the 2003 labour market reform.

The Labour Force Survey of the second quarter of 2004, carried out by the National Institute of Statistics (Istituto nazionale di statistica, Istat), included an ad hoc module on atypical labour contracts and working time. It follows on from the results of a comparable module (in Italian, 1.5Mb PDF) included in a 2001 survey.

Trends in working time arrangements

Table 1 summarises the main changes in working time arrangements between 2001 and 2004. The prevalence of working time flexibility and part-time work increased by 28.1% and 37%, respectively, while overtime decreased dramatically (by 53.7%). Work shifts and unsocial working times showed slight declines both in absolute values and in their proportions.

Several factors could explain these changes: all sectors have increased their use of working time flexibility; the increase of part-time work is reflected in the expansion of service sectors, which show a higher concentration of female workers, of whom 25% work part time. Similarly, the slight decrease of work shifts and unsocial hours may also be due to the growth in the service sectors; at the same time, the decline in overtime is related partly to poor economic performance over a prolonged period, and partly to the increasing popularity of other flexible working time arrangements.

Table 1: Dynamics of working times (%)
Dynamics of working times (%)
  2001 2004 % changes
Working time flexibility 27.5 33.8 28.1
Part-time work 9.6 12.5 37.0
Shift work 20.4 18.5 -4.6
Unsocial working times 53.6 48.3 -6.1
Overtime 26.8 11.8 -53.7

Source: Calculations by Fondazione Pietro Seveso, based on Istat, 2004 and 2005

Flexibility options

The take-up of flexibility options shows a predominance of flexible start/end times with a fixed length of daily working time (21.5%), followed at some distance by individual agreements in managing working time flexibility (5.2%). The latter option is particularly high in agriculture and personal services. Some 2.7% of respondents enjoy complete flexibility, while the same proportion hold on-call contracts; working time accounts are reported by a negligible proportion of workers (1.4%) (Table 2).

However, on-call jobs do not coincide with the ‘job-on-call labour contract’, introduced by the 2003 labour market reform (IT0307204F), since they are mainly concentrated in agriculture, where specific contractual arrangements and unemployment benefit regimes are in force. Unfortunately, it is not possible to compare the results from 2001 and 2004 in this regard because of changes to the survey questions.

Table 2: Working time flexibility options (%)
Working time flexibility options (%)
  Agriculture Manufacturing and mining Construction Commerce Company-related services Social services Personal services Services total Total
Flexible start/end, fixed daily hours 19.7 18.8 20.6 22.5 28.6 21.1 21.0 22.7 21.5
Individual working time account 0.6 0.8 0.6 1.2 1.6 2.7 0.6 1.8 1.4
Individual arrangement 17.6 2.6 8.2 5.9 4.6 2.6 16.0 5.5 5.2
Complete flexibility 5.7 1.5 2.0 3.1 2.4 3.2 3.6 3.1 2.7
Other options 4.0 1.5 1.6 2.1 1.9 1.9 2.4 2.0 1.9
Don’t know 2.0 0.8 1.8 1.3 0.8 1.1 1.4 1.1 1.1
Total flexible working times 49.6 26.1 34.7 36.1 39.8 32.5 45.0 36.3 33.8
Job on-call 34.1 1.1 6.1 1.6 1.2 0.7 7.4 1.9 2.7

Source: Istat, 2005

Working times of self-employed people

Working times of self-employed persons (representing 6.3 million people, or 28.1% of the Italian workforce) were not analysed in the report of the 2001 module. Occupational status and number of customers influence, to a great extent, their control of working times and their flexibility. Less than one in two self-employed persons with only one client can decide when and how to work (49.2%); this proportion falls to just 28.1% in the case of consultancy and freelance workers ‘coordinated’ by an employer – so-called ‘freelance coordinated’ workers (IT0011273F). This group represents 86.5% of self-employed people with only one client. Most of these freelancers have the status of ‘economically dependent worker’ or ‘parasubordinate worker’ (326 Kb PDF), which means they are officially self-employed but are in fact economically dependent on one employer (IT0501NU01). Almost 50% of these workers cannot decide when or how they work, thereby showing characteristics usually associated with employees.

On the other hand, some 84% of self-employed people with more than one customer have control over both working times and methods. Nevertheless, freelance coordinated workers in this category still show worse working conditions, although they represent just 13% of multi-customer self-employed people: only 31.3% of these freelancers can decide both when and also how to work, and 39.1% of them have no control over when and how to work.

Table 3: Self-employed workers’ control over working times and methods and number of customers (%)
Self-employed workers’ control over working times and methods and number of customers (in %)
  Entrepreneurs and professionals Self-employed people ‘Freelance coordinated’ workers Working partners in cooperatives Total
One client/customer
Decide when and also how to work 67.1 49.2 28.1 50.0 49.2
Decide when, not how to work 5.7 2.3 10.8 0.0 7.8
Decide how, not when to work 11.4 5.4 10.6 50.0 9.2
Do not decide when and how to work 12.9 8.1 49.5 50.0 33.2
Total 4.5 6.1 86.5 4.0 12.5
More than one client/customer
Decide when and also how to work 89.9 84.0 31.3 70.6 84.8
Decide when, not how to work 1.7 1.1 12.5 5.9 1.5
Decide how, not when to work 5.5 10.9 15.6 5.9 4.1
Do not decide when and how to work 2.8 3.8 39.1 17.6 4.1
Total 82.0 89.1 13.0 34.3 80.2

Source: Istat, 2005


The 2001 and 2004 ad hoc modules on atypical working times and labour contracts were carried out after the introduction of two major labour market reforms that increased flexibility in employment relationship s and in working time arrangements: Law No. 196/1997, the so-called ‘Treu package’ (IT9709310F), and Law No. 30/2003, the so-called ‘Biagi law’(IT0307204F). However, their impact cannot be evaluated on an equal footing, since the time span between the reforms and the subsequent survey is different in each case.

Nevertheless, both surveys monitor the impact of the former reform, although they were carried out at different economic periods. For example, the increasing use of working time flexibility and part-time work seem to have replaced the use of overtime, as shown in the support for the Treu package by the social partners.

Examining the situation for self-employed people reveals a clear difference between freelance coordinated workers, who are mostly economically dependent, and other self-employed persons. While the latter show high levels of control over both working time and method, especially when they have more than one customer, the freelance coordinated workers have poor control over both dimensions, with working conditions similar to employees but without the same level of job security and social insurance protection.

Further information

See also latest trends in atypical employment (IT0509104F), and how this kind of work is becoming more prevalent in Italy (IT0504206F).

A 2003 labour market report found that women have experienced a lack of flexibility in working time arrangements, thereby forcing them to take up part-time work (IT0502NU02).

Mario Giaccone, Fondazione Pietro Seveso

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