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. 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 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 illegal recruitment of vulnerable workers and forced laborers (the so-called caporalato). Penalties range from fines to the suspension of a company’s license to conduct commercial activities. In 2018, the most recent year for which data were 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 7,160 inspections of agricultural companies, and identified 5,114 irregular workers, of which 3,349 were undeclared workers (off the books) and 263 were foreign workers without residence permits. These irregularities remained substantially in line with 2016 and 2017 figures.
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. A migrant encampment outside of San Ferdinando in Reggio Calabria province hosted approximately 2,000 migrants earning approximately 0.50 euros ($0.55) per crate of picked oranges. 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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. Government enforcement was generally effective, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations 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 in migrant or Romani communities. In 2018 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 263 underage laborers, compared with 220 in 2017. 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 by sea dropped from 3,536 in 2018 to 1,335 between January and November 4. 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 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. As of June the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies had identified 7,272 unaccompanied minors, of whom 4,736 had left the shelters assigned to them. Of those assisted, 93 percent were boys and 86 percent were 16 or 17 years old. Girls were 7 percent of the total, of which 32 percent came from 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 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. More than 4,000 volunteers became guardians and supported migrants integrating into local communities.
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 Anti-Racial Discrimination Office to intervene in discrimination cases, and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations but the number of inspections was insufficient to guarantee 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 Eurostat, in 2017 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. Responsibly 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. 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.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Penalties were not enough to deter all violations.
In 2018 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 144,163 companies (including agricultural companies), identifying 162,932 individual workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor laws. Of these, 42,306 were undeclared (off the books), and 1,332 were irregular migrants. The National Labor Inspectorate found 15,641 violations of regulations on working hours and suspended 8,789 companies for the specific violation of employing more than 20 percent of their workers without a formal contract, compared with 6,932 companies in 2017.
Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. According to the CGIL, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors.
In 2018 the Association of Artisans and Small Businesses of Mestre estimated there were approximately three million irregular workers in the country, 40 percent of whom 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.