Working towards equal opportunities for women in employment

In early December 2006, the Italian Ministry of Labour launched a 12-month project, which aims to study gender pay differences and to increase the presence of women in the labour market. The project will be implemented in 2007, in line with the ‘European year of equal opportunities for all’.

On 5 December 2006, the Italian Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Cesare Damiano, and Undersecretary Rosa Rinaldi, launched a project aimed at combating discrimination in employment. The primary objective of the 12-month project is to develop specific measures to reduce the gender pay gap and female job insecurity. The project is part of a more general strategy implemented by the government against all forms of discrimination, coinciding with the launch of 2007 as the European year of equal opportunities for all.

Situation of women in employment

To date, the data collected by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali) show that equal opportunity policies in Italy have been ineffective, with serious imbalances remaining between men and women in this regard. On average, women in employment only earn half the amount of their male counterparts. The annual wage gap between both sexes ranges from €3,800 for employees on an open-ended employment contract to €10,000 for freelance workers. Generally, men’s income levels are higher than those attained by women, regardless of the type of employment contract. For example, male employees earn 23% more than women, male economically independent workers earn 40% more, while salaries are 24% higher for men carrying out contract work. Furthermore, 54% of ‘precarious workers’ are women, and they remain in this situation for twice as long as men. Despite the fact that women have better educational levels than men, they usually carry out work requiring lower qualifications. In fact, 20% of women are overqualified for the jobs they do.

One out of every 10 women leaves her job after taking maternity leave, while 40% of women decide not to work in order to look after their children. Only 1.2% of women manage to accumulate a total of 40 years of social security contributions, while 9% of women accrue between 35 and 40 years of contributions and 52% less than 20 years. Finally, according to the National Social Security Institute (Istituto Nazionale di Previdenza SocialeINPS), the Social Security Institute for Public Employees (Istituto Nazionale di Previdenza per i Dipendenti dell’Amminstrazione Pubblica, Inpdap) and the National Welfare and Assistance Agency for Entertainment Workers and Sports Professionals (Ente Nazionale di Previdenza e di Assistenza per i Lavoratori dello Spettacolo e dello Sport Professionistico, Enpals), 76% of minimum pensions (2.6 million) below €500 are received by women; in 64.8% of these cases, they concern women with only one pension, reflecting an annual average pension amount of approximately €7,300. Women who are not disabled or suffering from invalidity can receive both the old-age pension, funded by the obligatory social security contributions paid during their working life, and a survivor’s pension if she is the widow of a pensioner. If a woman is not entitled to receive these types of pensions, or if these payments amount to less than €500, she will receive a social pension; therefore, women can have more than one pension.

Aims of the project

The aim of the ministry’s project is to examine, highlight and find eventual solutions for gender discrimination at national and local level. Analyses and case studies will be carried out in order to examine wage differences and the level of job insecurity among women workers. The study will cover various EU Member States and countries outside of Europe; more specifically, it will carry out the following:

  • a comparison of the principal studies concerning the gender pay gap;
  • an overview of gender discrimination in relation to working conditions;
  • analyses of the main legislative and contractual norms for the reduction of the wage gap in the countries studied;
  • a comparison of the principal active policies tested in other EU countries.

Government measures against discrimination

Minister Damiano underlined the government’s attempt to tackle this situation by introducing certain measures in the 2007 budget law, including an increase in rights relating to maternity and difficult pregnancies, an improvement and extension of rights for apprentices concerning illness, as well as the adequate allocation of funds for the regularisation of illegal labour and semi-subordinate labour. The minister stated that ‘no quick improvements can be made, but we can only verify the results year by year’.

Another initiative introduced by the government to encourage women into employment relates to the tax wedge cut, which foresees greater advantages for enterprises that hire women, particularly in southern Italy. In the north of the country, fiscal benefits for enterprises hiring men and women on open-ended employment contracts will total €5,000, whereas in the south, the figure will rise to €10,000, increasing further to €12,000 for women. The amount of obligatory social security contributions that the employer has to transfer to the state varies according to the female unemployment rate. Since the female unemployment rate in southern Italy is relatively high, the government decided in the last budget law to increase the amount of incentives to encourage female employment in favour of companies located in the south of Italy.

Trade union reaction

Annamaria Parente, responsible for the coordination of women’s affairs (coordinamento donne) at the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl), underlined the inactivity of the Italian Ministry of Equal Opportunities (Dipartimento per i Diritti e le Pari Opportunità) in providing political guidelines and in playing the role of coordinator regarding these issues. According to Ms Parente, such inactivity may render numerous projects ineffective as a result of a lack of coordination.

Furthermore, Ms Parente highlighted the importance of social dialogue among all key stakeholders, as well as the significance of teamwork. She urged the Ministry of Equal Opportunities, headed by Barbara Pollastrini, to better exploit the ‘European year of equal opportunities for all’ by making important decisions in this regard. Moreover, Ms Parente argued that ‘there are numerous problems linked to equal opportunities, but priorities to be pursued must be decided together by the government and the social partners’.

Marta Santi, Cesos

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