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 one-half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.
The government effectively enforced these laws. 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 generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Union representatives suffered casualties while raising awareness and advocating for labor interests. In June, during a demonstration, a truck driver ran over and killed a union leader who was protesting for better working conditions in the logistics sector. The truck dragged the labor leader for several yards as the driver drove away from the scene. Police arrested the driver for alleged vehicular homicide and failure to provide assistance to the union leader. Two other protesters were also reportedly hit by the truck driver and suffered minor injuries. 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 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 commercial and business licenses and in some cases imprisonment.
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 made migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation. Some migrant workers were designated “essential,” which put them at risk of exploitation, including employer blackmail. The government has a system to legalize undocumented foreign workers in the country. According to press reports, some employers manipulated and blackmailed migrant agricultural workers and care givers to obtain employer signatures on applications. More than 220,000 migrant workers applied for legal status through the program. The government estimated there were 600,000 undocumented migrants 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. The practice has reportedly spread to other sectors and regions. There were anecdotal media reports that a limited number of Chinese nationals were forced to work in the textile sector and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into beggary. In the southeastern region of Sicily, 30,000 workers on approximately 5,500 farms worked through the pandemic for as little as 15 euros ($17) per day. There were also reports of children subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
In 2020 a new three-year plan (2020-22) revitalized the government’s efforts to fight labor exploitation and other illegal practices in the agricultural sector. In the same year, the European Commission and the Ministry of Labor funded projects to coordinate labor inspections with law enforcement agencies and the private sector. While the COVID pandemic made labor inspection activities challenging, nationwide in 2020 authorities identified 1,850 potential victims of caporalato and other labor law offenses, of whom 119 were undocumented migrants. Teams in several provinces in central and southern Italy inspected 758 sites, checked 4,767 positions, and identified 1,069 violations of labor rules and 205 potential victims. As a result of the inspections, 22 individuals were summoned for prosecution. The multiagency approach expanded to include an ad hoc group made up of local health officials, inspectors from other regions, and cultural mediators provided by the IOM.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors as well as all the worst forms of child labor, and 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. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 are limited to working eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. The government generally effectively enforced laws related to child labor 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 and Romani communities. In 2020, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 127 underage laborers, of whom 51 were working in the services sector (hotels and restaurants). The remainder worked in the art, sports, and entertainment sector, wholesale and retail trade, and car and motorbike repair.
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 of 21 and can support themselves. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were vulnerable to child labor exploitation and worked to prevent abuse by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained volunteer guardians at the juvenile court level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, elements of the law were not yet fully implemented across the country, although significant progress has been made.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. However, there were 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 with 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, according to labor unions, victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, due to fear of reprisal. According to a 2021 Eurostat study, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 14.1 percent lower than those of men performing the same job in the country in 2019.
In 2020 Ministry of Labor inspectors carried out 309 inspections to protect working mothers and pregnant women. The sectors with the most violations included hospitality, wholesale and retail trade, tourism, and health- and home-care assistance.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: 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. These minimum wages were above the poverty income level.
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 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 and hour violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of inspectors, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector. 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.
Occupational Safety and Health: 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 of government institutions
Occupational safety and health inspections were conducted by the same inspectors as wage and hour violations under the same authorities. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws, and penalties were commensurate with similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.
In 2020 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 103,857 companies (including agricultural firms) and identified 93,482 workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor law. Migrants in the agricultural sector faced unsafe work conditions, including working outdoors for prolonged periods of time while being exposed to temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and receiving wages below legal minimum wage requirements. In addition to farmworkers, unions and workers in the logistic sector expressed concerns regarding the grueling pace of work, work-related pain and injuries, and mental health issues as well as the lack of employment stability and security for temporary workers. In 2020 there were 1,270 workplace deaths due to accidents in the industrial sector as well as 554,340 reported incidents that resulted in injuries.
Informal Sector: Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. 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. According to the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, 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. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the informal sector of the economy was responsible for more than 11 percent of the country’s GDP.