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The Italian job

Nope, I'm not going to rattle on about the well known films. This entry is going to be about Italians and their aspirations with regard to the world of work and what the wonderful world of work can offer them.

Many Italians still long for that elusive 'job for live'. Something which is becoming ever more difficult to find now that the Italian government has finally awoken to the fact that the overly generous state pension scheme has become too expensive to maintain. There is also the fact that it is devilishly difficult to sack employees and even making them redundant is complex and expensive for employers. International pressures are also affecting the way in which Italy is trying to control its inflexible employment system forcing the country into introducing legislation designed to force flexibility on the job market here. Many employers are exploiting these changes in sometimes rather creative ways, doing everything possible to avoid creating expensive full time permanent employees. Trades unions still wield an enormous amount of power here and effectively block any attempts to change employment legislation at a fundamental level, hence the government's introduction of legislation which skirts round original laws and at the same time attempts to keep the unions reasonably content.

Now, what do all these maneuvers mean for the majority of working Italians? Well, put very simply, they are making many people unhappy. One example I heard of recently concerns an employee of a travel agency which was recently bought out by another travel company. The person I know is a full time, permanent employee and enjoyed various commissions on top of her basic salary. These commissions have been removed and her new employers are, or so it would seem, doing everything to 'encourage' her to seek alternative employment. It seems that these new employers want to try to employ everyone, who is not at management level presumably, under the terms of a newly introduced 'apprentice' contract. Doing this will enable them to employ young people for short periods at a low cost and it will mean that poor quality employees can be removed relatively easily. The cost savings really are significant and would make a considerable difference to the profitability of the company and this in itself is enough to promote the use of dubious strategies designed to reduce the number of permanent employees to an absolute minimum. Great if you are the one pocketing the profits, not so good if you are facing being thrown into a job market in which stable employment is becoming ever more difficult, if not impossible to find.

Another one of these innovative schemes designed to encourage employment is that of the contract related to project work or Co Co Co as it is often referred to here. These contracts tie employees to project work, meaning that once a project comes to an end there is no requirement to keep the employee or employees concerned. The employers gain in that they can reduce numbers once the amount of project work diminishes, but if you are the lucky party to one of these contracts, you become a type of freelancer incidentally, you do not get the impression that your job is stable. Result: more unhappy semi-employees. I know an number of people work have these contracts and they are not the most content people in the world as you may imagine.

Finally, we come to the complex world of what used to be known as temping agencies. In Italy these agencies should really be called 'outsourcing agencies' because effectively that is the service they provide. The way in which they work is this. Company A needs personnel to maintain records on its computer systems, say. Now, they could take on a number of staff to do this, however, this would not be very cost effective as it would mean that once everything has been entered in the databases these people would be without anything to do. This is not great from a management viewpoint. So, what do you do as an employer? Well, you engage the services of a company such as Adecco who will provide you with the staff you need to carry out a basic task for no more than its length. Result: Happy employer, happy outsourcing agency, but demoralised workers who never know where they will end up next, if indeed they will end up anywhere. Needless to say many of those working with these agencies see their relationships as being something to do while waiting for something more permanent to come up. Only, in today's job market the possibilities of this actually occurring are becoming ever lower.

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The difference between working for an 'outsourcing agency' and the Co co co contracts? Generally the outsourcing agencies work with people with low qualifications and skill levels – namely admin and clerical bods. Whereas, the Co co co people are more likely to be employed in circumstances requiring more highly skilled or graduate educated personnel.

So, what's it like to be looking for a job in Italy? Well, it's not great. Just as in the UK and the States and an ever increasing number of countries around the world people are working from day to day and lack enthusiasm and motivation. Fear of not finding anything else and the costs of raising kids and all the rest keep people working at a relatively efficient level. Capitalism at its most efficient in many ways – low costs and high returns.

Bearing in mind how satisfying work isn't these days it is no real surprise to hear that crime rates are going up, drug use is reaching new levels and national lotteries are becoming ever more popular. The situation provokes quite an number of questions: Is this a good direction in which to be going? Does it promote the continued development of our world? Has humanity become inhumane?

My simple answers to each of the above questions would be 'No', 'No' and 'Yes' respectively. But I live in the vain hope of being proved very wrong.

There is an interesting PDF document which details Italian employment law changes here, if you are interested and you can find some more about Adecco here.

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