Two in three workers work overtime to boost income

The preliminary results of the survey ‘L’Italia che lavora oggi’ (‘The working Italy today’) carried out by the Italian Economic and Social Research Institute show that earnings are higher among those employees working longer hours. In general, working overtime is perceived as a way to increase the personal and family income, particularly among workers with poor career opportunities. The survey findings also reveal that working time impacts on the gender pay gap.

About the survey

From late 2005 to early 2006, the Economic and Social Research Institute (Istituto di Ricerche Economiche e Sociali, Ires), along with nine of its regional institutes, launched a survey among workers on the quality of work and their expectations of trade unions and the Italian political system. The survey L’Italia che lavora oggi (‘The working Italy today’) formed part of the activities to celebrate the centenary of Italy’s largest trade union confederation, the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil).

As part of the survey, over 6,000 workers were interviewed on the basis of a structured questionnaire, including those with atypical employment contracts, such as fixed-term or part-time contracts.

In September 2006, Ires published a preliminary analysis of the survey results (in Italian, Powerpoint slides) while a more in-depth analysis is expected in 2007.

Working time patterns

According to the survey findings, over 60% of the respondents work more than 40 hours a week and 22% of this same group work more than 45 hours a week. In the private sector, this proportion amounts to 73% of the workers surveyed, while in the public sector 55% of employees work 24 to 36 hours a week. Overall, managers and professionals more frequently work long hours, with respectively 54% and 35% working more than 45 hours a week. Conversely, short working times ranging from 18 to 24 hours a week are concentrated among workers in commerce (23.6% of the survey respondents) and in education, such as teachers (45.9%). These findings contrast sharply with the results of the 2004 Labour Force Survey (LFS) ad hoc module on atypical labour contracts and working time (in Italian) carried out by the National Institute of Statistics (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica, Istat) (IT0603019I).

Part-time work and gender differences

With regard to working time, one woman out of every four women and one man out of every 14 men work part time. Among young workers of less than 25 years of age, the difference in part-time employment between women and men is less significant because of the nature of a first employment contract, which tends to be awarded on a full-time basis. Nevertheless, the gender difference in part-time employment increases rapidly with age: 30% of women aged between 35 and 44 years work part time, while almost all men in this age group work full time. This pattern is consistent with the main findings of the 2002–2003 Time Use Survey which was carried out by Istat. Its main findings are summarised in the report Work-life balance and fertility rates (in Italian) which underlines the uneven division of household tasks among partners, whereby women have most responsibility for the household and care work and hence their overall working time is longer (IT0603NU04).

Working time flexibility

Moreover, working time arrangements remain unfavourable to women. Some 36.5% of women compared with 33% of men allege that working time flexibility is unilaterally decided by the employer. Among non-permanent employees, this share increases to 45.3% of women who state that they have no influence on working time flexibility arrangements (for comparable results see IT0502NU02). To improve their work-life balance, 45% of the survey respondents would prefer a flexibility option such as daily flexibility or a working time account (mainly men), while 43.5% of the workers surveyed would prefer to work part time (mainly women). However, only 8.7% of the survey respondents would choose teleworking, and just 2.6% of the workers would exchange unsocial hours with shorter working times.

Gender pay gap

Moreover, working time is also an indicator of the gender pay gap. Some 53% of men and 71.6% of women who work between 18 and 24 hours a week earn less than €1,000 a month while 31% of men and 19% of women working more than 40 hours a week earn more than €1,500. Taking into account that more than 37% of the survey respondents perform low-skilled jobs, with 46.1% of those working in manufacturing, it is unsurprising that more than two out of three full-time employees usually work overtime to increase their income. The survey findings also reveal that some 54.5% of men and 48% of women would like to get paid more for their work.


The survey results on working time issues are consistent with most studies carried out in the last 10 years, except the ad hoc module on working time carried out in the LFS in the second quarter of 2004 by Istat. The latter showed an important decrease of overtime with respect to the analogous 2001 survey (in Italian, 1.44Mb PDF). The issue of overtime therefore requires further investigation, in particular with regard to whether overtime hours are compensated or not by employers.

Working time plays an important role in relation to existing gender pay gaps. It shows that compensation systems and career options are mainly based on the time spent at work rather than on the workers’ actual competences. These findings are consistent with those of the 2002 survey on ‘Changing work’ which observed little innovation in Italian organisations (IT0511NU02).They also reveal the prevalence of overskilled workers in certain jobs, as investigated by the 2002 Quality of work survey carried out by Isfol, the national agency for training (IT0503SR01).

Mario Giaccone, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso

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