[en] The Education Workforce

Precarious Workforce in Education

It is not uncommon, among schoolteachers, to hear conversations referring to one’s own “years as a precarious worker”. While education is depicted as a parasitic, excessively guaranteed job , most teachers who are in their thirties or forties only have had short-term, non-tenured positions. As of 2008/2009 school-year, 116.973 precarious teachers were serving in the educational system, amounting to roughly 14% of total employment (Source: Tuttoscuola).
In 1990, as a part of the reform of education, a post-secondary course was instituted for the training of teachers (SSIS), by-law L. 341/1990. However, SSISs were activated only in 1998, within the reform of Education fostered by the centre-left coalition governments. The introduction of SSISs turned the preexisting system, based on national competitions and qualifying exams, into one based on constant training. This led to creeping commodification of training, since private workshops would earn teachers additional credits on the job lists. This transformation also engendered a wake of hostility between newly graduated teachers, who would directly gain access to the profession, and long-time ones, who had been serving many years without a regular contract.
In 2007, the Prodi Government announced the stabilization of 50,000 teachers employed with temporary contracts. However, this promise was not supported by the following right-wing Government. SSIS were abruptly abolished in 2008, with no future perspective on what might replace them other than unemployment. In 2008 Ministry Gelmini also announced dramatic cutbacks to the total figure of Education employees, mainly achieved by not replacing the projected retirements over a 3-year period. The projected figure of lost jobs would amount to 45,000 units. Tourism was indicated as a possible area of re-training for future unemployed teachers. Actual cancellation of jobs, both in the teaching and in the administrative sectors (including school attendants and cleaning service) was announced in 2009, amounting to the dreadful figure of 100,000 units. 57,000 jobs have been cancelled, as of 2010.

Precarious Workforce in University.

PhD students are not always funded in Italy. While some of them have access to merit scholarships, many others have to rely on their own means (on average, only 50% of each cohort is funded, and on March 25, 2011, Ministry Gelmini has agreed to drop even this minimum requirement). Furthermore, Research Assistantships, Teaching Assistantships and other typical chores of PhD students are not regulated by a collective agreement and are often carried out on a voluntary basis. Unpaid activities include marking of oral and written examinations, preliminary research, organizational tasks, lab research, data collection, and even humiliating tasks that are more pertaining to the private lives of Professors than to their actual research.
Alongside unpaid work from PhD students, one must also consider precarious work from funded PhDs, post-doctoral fellows and researchers, who devote hours and energy to teaching and organizing, often mentoring students and advising them on their dissertations.
According to the Ministry of Education, in 2009, the total figure of “informal” employees in the Italian universities was of approximately 80,000, as opposed to the 60,882 faculty members under regular contracts (Source: Molecole). In other words, the functioning of universities heavily rests on the shoulders of unprotected and non-unionized workers, who came eventually to outnumber formal employees.
To the bulk of “informal teaching”, one should also add the 43,900 courses taught by non-structured faculty members, amounting to 42% of total course offering. In 2005, a decree signed by Ministry Moratti introduced the possibility of hiring faculty on short-term contracts (the so-called “docenti a contratto”). This opportunity soon became a legal shelter for unpaid work: many teaching posts would receive no more than a symbolic compensation, and no collective agreement is there to regulate the conditions of such postings. In 2011, with Law 240/2010 (CONTROLLARE) signed by Gelmini introduced two typologies of “short-term contracts”, one serving “Highly Qualified” experts (e.g., professionals), that can be assigned without a public call and that can be taught on a voluntary basis, the other one serving “Acacemically Qualified” experts (including precarious workers previously employed inside the university), to be assigned after advertising and selection. However, no Actuative Decree has still been issued for this Law.

Precarious Employment after Graduation

As the Bologna Process increasingly emphasized the vital connection between education and future employment, such connection was difficult to see in the everyday reality of students who left Universities to face years of under-qualified, underpaid and, often, “under-the-table” work.
As a result, while inter-class generational mobility has slowed down, an increasingly popular discourse has diminished the social function of Higher Education. Meanwhile, blaming the precarious youth has became commonplace: in particular, unemployed graduates are deemed responsible for their own social weakness. In 2007, the centre-left Ministry of Economy Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa (†2010) dubbed the people in their thirties and forties and still living at their parents’ as “bamboccioni” (an idiom roughly translatable with the expression “big babies”). In 2010, the Ministry of Labour Sacconi (a former Socialist and environmentalist who joined the ranks of PDL in 2001) invited the unemployed graduates to go for no matter what job, regardless of academic qualifications or skills. In both cases, a moralistic stance was used to conceal the lack of far-sighted policies addressing the problems of impoverished and unprotected generations.
Finally, while flexibility and lack of social protection ravaged the job perspectives of the recent cohort of graduates, unpaid internships came to replace entry-level contracts in many qualified professions. The graduates’ eagerness for experience came to meet the hunger for unpaid workforce of many firms, companies and small businesses. As a result, it is nowadays common to hear of people at their third or fourth unpaid internship. Public initiatives such as “La Repubblica Degli Stagisti” (The Interns Republic”: the name is based on Item 1 of the Italian Constitution, defining Italy as a “Republic based on work) and, more recently, the CGIL-based campaign “Giovani Non Più Disposti a Tutto” (“Youth no longer willing to do anything”) have denounced the most blatant episodes of exploitation; however, a legislative protection for interns – sanctioning the non-compliant employers – is still to come.

One Response to [en] The Education Workforce

  1. Pingback: [en] The Politics of Generations in Present-Day Italy | Struggles in Italy

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