Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.
The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification than in other sectors and prohibits multiple strikes within days of each other in those services. The law only allows unions that represent at least half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.
The government effectively enforced these laws. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. The penalties were commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations that occurred.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law.
The law provides stiff penalties for illicit intermediaries and businesses that exploit agricultural workers, particularly in the case of forced labor but also in cases of general exploitation. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes so-called caporalato, the recruitment of foreign agricultural workers who are illegally employed at subminimum wages and required to work long hours without premium pay or access to labor or social protections. Penalties range from fines to the suspension of a company’s license to conduct commercial activities.
The government continued to focus on forced labor, especially in the agricultural sector. Government labor inspectors and labor organizations expressed concerns during the year that lockdown measures related to COVID-19 exposed caporalato migrant workers, many of whom were designated essential workers, to particular vulnerability, including employer blackmail. In May the government established a system to regularize undocumented foreign workers in the country. According to press reports, some employers exploited the regularization process by blackmailing workers who needed their employers’ signature to apply for the program. The program only applies to migrants working in the agricultural sector and as care providers. Approximately 123,000 migrant workers applied for legal status through the program. There were 600,000 undocumented migrants estimated to be in the country.
Forced labor occurred. According to NGO reporting, workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the south. There continued to be anecdotal evidence that limited numbers of Chinese nationals were forced to work in textile factories and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into begging. In the southeastern region of Sicily, 30,000 workers on approximately 5,500 farms worked through the pandemic for as little as 15 euros ($18) per day. There were also reports of children subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 16. There are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances, mining, excavation, and working with power equipment. Government enforcement was generally effective, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations in the formal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the south and in family-run agricultural businesses.
There were some reports of child labor during the year, primarily in migrant or Romani communities. In 2019 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 243 underage laborers, of whom 210 were working in the services sector. In March 2019 police arrested two parents whose underage son was working in a carwash in Acate in the province of Ragusa. He and his two sisters were not enrolled in school.
The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and creates a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive in the country until they reach the age 21 and can support themselves. According to Eurostat, 660 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 2019, compared with 3,885 in 2018. As of August 17, the Ministry of Interior registered 1,981 seaborne arrivals of unaccompanied minors, compared with 1,680 in 2019.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were vulnerable to becoming child laborers in agriculture, bars, shops, and construction and worked to prevent exploitation by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained voluntary guardians at the juvenile court-level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, elements of the law have yet to be fully implemented across the country, although significant progress was made.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. There were some media reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to the National Office against Racial Discrimination to intervene in discrimination cases, and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination. Penalties were commensurate to other laws related to civil rights, but the number of inspections was insufficient to provide adequate implementation.
Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.
In many cases victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, according to labor unions. According to a 2018 Eurostat study, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 5 percent lower than those of men performing the same job.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy.
Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day. The law sets occupational safety and health standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. The penalties for wage, hour, and occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Labor standards were partially enforced in the informal sector, especially in agriculture, construction, and services, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers.
The number of inspectors, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Labor inspectors were permitted to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.
In 2019 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 128,367 companies (including agricultural companies), identifying 93,482 workers whose terms of employment were in violation of the labor law. In 2019 there were 1,156 workplace deaths due to industrial accidents as well as a total of 644,800 reported incidents that caused injuries to workers.
Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. According to the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), a national trade union, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Unions reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions in some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily.