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 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. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations.
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 sufficiently stringent to deter violations. 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 middlemen 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 illegal recruitment of vulnerable workers and forced work (the so-called caporalato). Penalties range from fines to the suspension of a company’s license to conduct commercial activities. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies dedicated an increased amount of attention to this problem. Government labor inspectors and the Carabinieri carried out 7,265 inspections of agricultural companies, and identified 5,222 irregular workers, of which 3,549 were undeclared workers (off the books) and 230 were foreign workers without residence permits. These irregularities remained in line with 2016 figures.
Forced labor occurred during the year. Workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the south, according to the NGO Parsec. 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. There were also limited reports that children were subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of children under the age of 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. Penalties for employing child labor include heavy fines or the suspension of a company’s commercial activities. Government enforcement was generally effective in the formal economy. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the south and in family-run agricultural businesses.
There were some limited reports of child labor during the year, primarily among migrant or Romani communities. In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 220 underage laborers. The number of irregular migrants between the ages of 15 and 18 entering the country by sea from North Africa decreased. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in the country by sea dropped from 15,779 in 2017 to 3,177 as of September. Most of these minors were from Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority arrived in Sicily, and many remained there in shelters, while others moved to other parts of the country or elsewhere in Europe.
The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors, creating a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive until they reach the age of majority and can support themselves. As of the end of January, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies had identified 14,939 unaccompanied minors, of whom 4,332 had left the shelters assigned to them. Of those assisted, 93 percent were boys and 84 percent were 16 or 17 years of age. Girls were 7 percent of the total with 60 percent from Eritrea and Nigeria; this group was especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were more vulnerable to becoming child laborers 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, there are still elements of the law that have yet to be fully implemented across the country, but significant progress was made. Over 4,000 volunteers became guardians and supported migrants integrating into local communities.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in respect of 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 UNAR to intervene in all cases of discrimination and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination.
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 Eurostat, in 2016 (the most recent year for which data was available) women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 5.3 percent lower than those of men performing the same work.
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. In 2017 the government set the official poverty line at 1,085 euros ($1,248) per month for a family of two.
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 basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries.
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. Labor standards were only partially enforced in the informal sector, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Penalties for violations include incarceration and fines but were not sufficient to deter all violations.
In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 160,347 companies (including agricultural companies), identifying 252,659 individual workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor laws. Of these, 48,073 were undeclared (off the books); and 1,227 were irregular migrants. Inspectors found 12,800 violations of regulations on working hours and suspended approximately 6,932 companies for the specific violation of employing over 20 percent of their workers without a formal contract. The number of companies found to be in violation remained roughly in line with 2016 (7,013).
Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. According to the main labor confederation, the CGIL, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors.
In 2016 an independent research center, the Association of Artisans and Small Businesses of Mestre, estimated that there were 3.1 million irregular workers in the country, of whom 40 percent were based in southern regions. Some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions. This data was still considered reliable.