At first glance, Giuliano Poletti, Minister of Labour and Social Policy in the Renzi government, could look like an old-fashioned left-wing politician: born into a farming family in the “red” Emilia-Romagna region, raised in the Communist Party, president of Legacoop, the main national organisation of cooperatives. He could be someone to provide a contrast to the Prime Minister’s attitude towards jobs (modelled on the inspiring figures of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair). But appearances can be deceptive.
In Italy the cooperative system is one of the main forces – together with Confindustria representing employers – pushing for even more deregulation of jobs. Italy is one of the European countries where job regulation particularly favours employers, as the result of a process starting around 20 years ago and mostly carried out by the centre-left Democratic Party and its earlier incarnations – the Democratic Party of the Left and the Democrats of the Left – with the most recent important contribution coming from Elsa Fornero, Mario Monti’s “technical” Minister of Labour. But Poletti’s action goes further.
The jobs system in Italy is now wildly deregulated. Some types of contracts, such as the notorious project contracts (contratti a progetto), provide almost nothing: no healthcare or maternity leave, no paid vacations, no job security (employers are able to fire workers for any reason or for no reason) and even no clear explanation of what a worker actually does, since they are simply classified as “freelance”, with the consequent lack of legal protection. For Poletti, Confindustria and Legacoop, though, this was not enough.
The new law extends this lack of protection to another type of contract, short-term contracts, where up to now workers had retained a little legal protection, at least against being laid off with no reason. The Italian Statute of Workers’ Rights – in terms of law and protection, the most important victory of the 1969 workers’ struggles, protecting workers against being laid off for no reason, giving them union rights, giving them the safety and wealth that have made Italy a wealthy country for decades – is now widely suspended for an increasing number of workers. This is especially true of article 18, the most important article, which lays down that employers must not fire someone without good reason (like stealing, fraud, criminal behaviour, violence, etc), and if this happens a judge may (and usually did in the past) order the worker’s reinstatement.
Poletti’s reform allows employers to fire young workers with no reason up to three years after they started work. Employers will be allowed to hire a large number of workers up to age 30 on apprenticeship contracts (which are less expensive and offer less protection) and then simply fire them at the end of the apprenticeship, only to hire new people.
The new law does not only affect young workers. Now employers will be allowed to renew short-term contracts eight times consecutively for an individual worker, within a maximum total period of 36 months. Even Fornero’s law was more restrictive, laying down that, after two short-term contracts, employers must hire with an open-ended contract.
Poletti’s law gives employers even more liberty to do whatever they want, in a country where, after 20 years of attacks against workers’ rights, they already have a very free hand. And this when Italian unions are weaker than ever.