August 27, 2006

Modern Slaves 5

Comic strip by Emanuele Fucecchi

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I’ve got the impression that politicians live in a separate world, far away from the citizens. And that their food is voting intentions, electoral tendencies, big chairs and little chairs. But even a rocking chair could be enough. The only reality that they know is their own and the citizen is always a subject. No one has asked for troops in the Lebanon, the pardon, an increase in clandestinity and gagging on intercepts. If Prodi had presented a programme like that the original would have got 90% of the votes. The Biagi law is a scandal. Why has the government not tackled it in the first 100 days? Are Italian young people worth less than delinquents? What a spectacle: we import slaves and at the same time we create them in-house.

I’m publishing an analysis of the effects of the Biagi law by Roberto Leombruni of LABOR and Mauro Gallegati of the Economics Faculty of Ancona.

Dear Grillo,
What happened at Atesia, demonstrates how urgent it is to re-examine the work contract “collaborazione coordinata e continuativa” {collaboration coordinated and continuing} that is so precarious that when you have finished pronouncing its name it’s already finished. Unless of course a judge intervenes. At Atesia, the Labour Inspectorate has set down that the 3200 people working “on project” (the quotes are necessary because the “project” was to answer the phone in a call centre) should be taken on as employees.

OK, given that Prodi has stated more than once that the fight against precariousness is a priority of his government, it would be a good idea to help the judges and radically reform a contract that in the last 10 years has kept millions of young people on the margins of the labour market. In this position it is much easier to exploit them.

How many collaborators are there? Yes, there are millions. For ten years we have been waiting for solid estimates.
It’s enough to say that ISTAT {government statistical office}, perhaps thinking that there were only a few, waited until 2004 before adding an ad hoc question on its surveys. And from the initial estimates it seemed that there weren’t that many (if 400,000 seems few).
However, a few days ago, INPS {Government Pensions Office} has finally published its report based on real data and now we know the truth: the collaborators, just in 2004, were almost three times that number, there were more than a million of them.

We are not talking only of collaborators, and thus excluding the free lance professionals, who are usually considered to be among the “saved” (but on this point see the paragraph below taking about “get your own IVA code or I will sack you” {IVA is the tax on the sale of goods and services}). And only considering those people for whom this collaboration is the only form of work, and they have a contract with only one organisation (this being the category that is usually identified as being in the weakest position), in 2004, there were 840,000 of these.

Why should this be changed?
For many reasons, that come from many stories that can be read on this blog. But the real problem is that they started off badly.
Before 1996, the only official way to engage a worker for a short period was to employ them with a fixed term contract, pay social contributions of about 33% and as in all the civilised world for the last century, paying holidays, thirteenth month and a contribution to a termination fund.
However there was the habit that was pretty close to working on the black market to offer a contract of occasional work and “then we will see”. In this way the contributions and all the other payments were avoided.
However 1996 saw the introduction of the famous formula “collaborazione coordinata e continuativa” that made a gift of 10% of contributions to those workers who were almost in the black market. In fact it just about legalised the habit of camouflaging the position of an employee under the much more innocent label of occasional worker.

In the absence of efficient controls it didn’t take long before the collaboration was used even in call centres. (the modern equivalent of the production line) and for work lasting years. Those who wanted to take advantage were guaranteed a form of labour at knockdown prices. Compared to taking on an employee, the saving was about 40%. That’s better than a “three for the price of two” at the supermarket. And a generation of workers found themselves working for years without being able to put away anything much for their own pension and with a level of protection like that in England in the industrial revolution. Just remember that it was only in 2000 that there was cover for accidents and work-related illnesses. The right to strike obviously is still not there.

Why the Biagi law made things worse.
In truth we’ve just had a reform called the Biagi law. But apart from changing the name to “cocoprò” that sounds slightly less stupid, it has been a reform that has made things worse in many ways.

The intention was to limit the improper use of collaboration. To do this the law required a written contract. (Before this was not necessary. It has taken us a bit to invent writing.) It’s also necessary to identify a specific project.
If it’s not possible to identify a project, the company can be obliged to take on the worker with an employment contract. This is the clause that was applied for Atesia. As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to believe that more than 3000 workers in a call centre have their own specific project to carry out.

It is a pity that this law states that the control of the judge (art. 69) “cannot be extended to the point of deciding the merit of the evaluation and the technical, organisational and production choices that are taken by the employer”.
It’s a pity that with the 1/2004 Maroni circular, further liberalisation arrived with the clarification that a cocoprò can be renewed as often as you want.

This is like saying that you just have to bother to write an ad hoc project once a year and you can keep a lifelong employee as a collaborator.
In real life, the Biagi law provoked an almost schizophrenic reaction from the companies. In many cases, the old cococo were simply transformed into cocoprò. Others, fearing the clause mentioned above, reacted by using blackmail.

This is seen in a research project carried out by IRES who surveyed a sample of people who took out an IVA code between 2003 and 2004. They found that 50% of these had done this because their employer asked them to or their contract would not have been renewed.

It’s a shame that 40% of them had only one work-provider (this became 80% counting those with one major work-provider), and they continue to be counted in that category of “pure collaborators” that we were talking about.”

Posted by Beppe Grillo at 02:16 PM in Modern Slaves | Comments (38)
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