Migrant workers report negative effects of crisis

A report has examined the effect of the global economic crisis on migrant workers in Italy. The report comes from the Associazione Bruno Trentin, the research institute linked with the main Italian trade union Cgil. It examined the difficulties migrant workers have in the labour market and the worsening of their working conditions. These difficulties are reflected in lower earnings, higher risks to heath, and increasing undeclared work, especially among women.

About the study

A report prepared by the Associazione Bruno Trentin, a research institute linked with Italy’s main trade union Cgil, has exmained the effect of the economic crisis on migrant workers in Italy. The impact of the crisis on migrants’ living and working conditions is based on analysis of Istat Labour Force Survey (LFS) figures. These were combines with the results of an ad hoc survey carried out with a sample of 1,000 migrant workers or jobseekers who had asked for support from Cgil union officials and offices in 10 out of 20 regions.

The survey used the snowball non-probability sampling technique, and included both employed and unemployed migrants. Men are slightly overrepresented in the data collection, while Asian underrepresentation is mainly due to the segregation of Chinese communities.

The report identifies two labour market discomfort indicators – ‘suffering’ caused by lack of work, and ‘discomfort’ experienced by those who have precarious work that is characterised by temporary contracts, or part-time work when they would rather work full-time. These indicators are disaggregated by gender and country of origin, by rearranging LFS files. The non-work group includes the unemployed, discouraged people available to work, and workers suspended from their job or who have received top-up welfare benefit because their hours have been cut.


The Italian labour market by gender and country of origin is summarised in Figure 1. Migrants display lower inactivity rates than native Italians, 7.3 percentage points lower among women and 8.5 percentage points lower among men. But they report a higher share of ‘employment suffering’ – 9 percentage points higher among women, and 8.7 percentage points higher for men. This showed a strong increase compared to figures from 2011 – 21.4% up in the case of women and up 23.7% among men. Employment discomfort has risen by 3 percentage points in the case of women, and was up 3.4 percentage points in the case of men.

Figure 1: Employment ‘suffering’ (no work) and ‘discomfort’ (precarious work or not enough working hours) by nationality and gender, 2012


Note: % values among those aged 15–64

Source: Associazione Bruno Trentin calculations, based on Istat LFS.

The ad hoc survey investigated both quality of work and quality of welfare, including citizenship rights, since questions were addressed to both employed and unemployed respondents.

Job satisfaction is self-assessed using a scoring system that ranges from 1 (unsatisfied) to 4 (very satisfied). Respondents report the highest scores for relationships with colleagues (2.92), work autonomy (2.72) and relationships with superiors (2.68). The overall score for career opportunity was just 2, and more than 72% of respondents said they had never experienced career advancement. Involvement (2.01) and earnings (2.33) also showed low scores.

In general, women reported lower scores than men (Figure 2) with the exception of work–life balance, career opportunities and relationships with colleagues.

Figure 2: Satisfaction with some aspects of working life


Source: Associazione Bruno Trentin, 2013

Impact of the crisis

When asked about the impact of the crisis on working conditions, reduction in pay (31.5%) and in working days (25.5%) were the most reported issues. These were often combined with longer hours (22.2%) and a higher exposure to risk factors (19.1%).

This pattern is even more pronounced among men, reflecting their concentration in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Women reported an increase in undeclared work (15.5%), and a worsening in exposure to risk (13.6%). A higher proportion of women reported unchanged working conditions – 23.3% compared with 9.2% among men – which reflects their concentration in personal care services.

It should be noted that respondents reporting a worsening in their quality of employment displayed differences in the pattern by gender, reflecting their sectoral concentration and differences in the patterns of cost reduction in terms of job protection.

Men reported a 10.7% increase in ‘grey economy’ arrangements such as ‘bogus’ part-time work and self-employment – 3.3 percentage points more than women. Figures showed women reported a 15.5% increase in undeclared work – 6.1 percentage points more than men.

Figure 3: Impact of the crisis on quality of work and employment (%)


Note: Respondents were permitted a maximum of two responses

Source: Associazione Bruno Trentin, 2013


This report provides important insights into the quality of working life among migrant workers. It focuses on a set of synthetic indicators that could be a useful monitoring tool.

It is possible to compare these findings with those from both the Isfol 2010 Third Quality of Work Survey, summarised in Job satisfaction developments in the European context and in the specific Italian context (in Italian, 163 KB PDF), and the Istat BES report, Sustainable and fair well-being, based on the 2009 survey.

The report discussed here shows lower scores for most aspects of job satisfaction with quite limited differences in their orderings. This is due partly to the timing, because of the prolonged recession, and partly due to methodological differences.

The reference population of the Cgil survey – migrants asking for support from trade unions – suggests that this is a group of people who display a more critical attitude towards their working conditions. Surveys based on computer-assisted telephone interviewing methodologies, used by Isfol, tend to underrepresent workers at the margin of the labour market. These include young people and migrants recently established in Italy, especially caregivers, who only use mobile phones.

Mario Giaccone, Ires

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