Social Dialogue and Migrants’ Labour Market Integration in Italy: a Half-Full or Half-Empty Glass?

Social Dialogue and Migrants’ Labour Market Integration in Italy: a Half-Full or Half-Empty Glass?

In Italy, social partners are traditionally represented by trade unions and employers’ organisations, including the main confederations of cooperative associations; only in recent years, the third sector is being formally included in social dialogue activities. The most common forms of social dialogue in Italy are between the government, trade unions and business representatives, and generally deal with collective bargain, employment/welfare reforms and pensions. Consultations beside those policy domains are generally less numerous and depends on the specific policy issues. In general, the system of industrial relations in Italy has been characterised by a low level of institutionalisation, having been largely voluntary and reliant on power relationships between the various actors, with minimal direct intervention by the State. According to more recent classifications, Italy should fall within the category of ‘polarised pluralism’, where the role of the social partners is variable and often highly politicised’, with a model of industrial relations characterised by a traditionally high degree of central coordination in collective bargaining. This stands true also in terms of migration and integration issues, where much is left to the political will of the policymakers.

In our research, we interviewed Social Partner organisations’ representatives from different socio-economic contexts, and combined the findings with data from an online expert survey targeting a wider range of Social Partner organisations. This allowed us to investigate the role played by social partners in the integration of MRAs in the Italian labour market, as well as the main barriers and enablers.

About the general perception of migrants, social partners are concurring in reporting migrants and refugees mostly as an asset rather than a burden, yet some categories may see them more as a necessity that is difficult to really integrate in the Italian society. In almost all cases, the social partners interviewed did not report any relevant tension between native and migrant workers in the workplaces. However, a few interviewees reported mistrust – if not tension – towards migrants, particularly in the initial phase.

More variations among the different social partners can be seen when we look at the various strategies and activities, as they space from very limited or only indirect involvement of MRAs in general programmes to targeted programmes and reflecting the various expertise of each SPO. Still, most have a generalised approach. Only actors from the third sector seem to have more specialised services or activities towards MRAs. Trade unions, for instance, tend to stress the universality of their actions in support of all workers, no matter if they are migrants or natives. In some instances, they have developed and expanded specialised services for migrants but even in this cases, they do not target any specific group if not for targeted projects.  This is also largely true for employers’ organisations. Enterprises, too, are not targeting specific groups if not in presence of ad hoc programmes. Strategies and activities are also adapted to the specific needs of diverse social and economic contexts. Indeed, territorial differences play a key role, determining the chances of integration, and the type of work, according to the various socio-economic and civic/political contexts. This happens in spite of national legislation which does not leave much leeway to regional or local governments, besides a few projects or some discretionary interpretation of specific legal provisions.

In this general context, the resulting scenario may thus be simplified as a half-full/half-empty glass situation.

Looking at the half-empty glass, we can underline the lack of targeted social dialogue activities about the integration of MRAs in the labour market at national or governmental level, while the issue is addressed at lower/bipartite level, or as part of more general policy issues (i.e. ‘migration’). Hence, social dialogue opportunities are present in Italy, but are often perceived as not particularly effective, with the most tangible results coming from the regional and local level, or when they involve specific projects. In line with Italian traditions, much is left to voluntary actions. Most activities and actions are project based, leaving social partner organisations (mostly the third sector) to self-organise and coordinate with other social partners and petitioning for resources. This also includes actions taken by/within bodies representing both employers and workers.

Looking at barriers, we can underline a few main factors which see ample consensus among our Social partners. The most relevant is the normative framework: national migration policy is considered too restrictive by almost all social partners, and de facto fostering irregular migration and the informal labour market. The second main issue reported is represented by language barriers and to a minor extent by cultural barriers, and difficulties to properly integrate in the local work culture. In general terms, social partners are also consensual that migrants are more exposed than native workers to both health and safety risk and exposure to the illegal labour market. Industrial culture and business ethics in Italy, particularly for SMEs, may also be an additional barrier to successful integration, due to a lack of knowledge on how to tackle the problem of integration and cultural diversity on the workplace.

Nevertheless, the results of our research also allow us to see the glass as half-full. Among social partner organisations in Italy, there is a strong consensus on the potential value of a successful labour market integration of MRAs, as well as on some key issues – mostly of normative/political nature. The private sector also presents numerous positive examples, in particular, from (often) large enterprises who are presenting – and promoting – successful stories (and methods) of integration. This may favour a fertile ground for new policy actions targeted at addressing at least some of the main drawbacks. Furthermore, we can also highlight the existence of successful projects that involved the cooperation of several social partners and social dialogue practices. Most prominently, this cooperation happens among third sector organisations, and the third sector and trade unions; still, the best results are seen when we have a full chain of cooperation, where each social partner  - third sector, trade unions, social cooperatives, private companies, - plays a key role in cooperation with the government and/or local administrations.


Authors: Mattia Collini

If you want to know more about the Italian social partners role in the integration of migrants, refugees and asylum applicants into labour markets, please have a look here at our Italy Chapter in our WP5 Report (113-133).