Recession drives up Italy’s jobless rate
For the ceramic workers of Civita Castellana in central Italy, Christmas “holidays” have not ended – but it is not a very happy 2009. A decade ago, chances were that an Italian going to the bathroom and then to table for a family dinner would use sanitary ware and then crockery produced in more than 100 factories around this hilltop town, older even than Rome. Its toilets, bidets and tableware conquered far-flung markets, even in the US.
Now workers say only one factory is left making plates, as the global recession hacks at an already battered industry. Many in the surviving sanitary-ware companies have been obliged to prolong their Christmas break under the Italian system of cassa integrazione where those with longer service stay at home on 80 per cent of their wages. Unions say they number some 1,200.
The number of people in Italy looking for work, more than 1.5m, is rising sharply, outpacing slight growth in the jobs market.
The jobless rate is running at a two-year high of about 6.7 per cent, which the official statistics agency attributes partly to an influx of European immigrants.
Analysts predict that the recession in sluggish Italy, already well under way, will be longer and deeper than in its main European competitors.
On Martyrs Street, Paolo Calderoni’s “Loan Solution” agency is seeing a lot of clients. “People are asking for loans to survive,” he says. But the banks are not interested, and forced repossessions of properties are up. The lucky ones get by working the land.
Next door, Francesco Panteleo, local leader of the independent Cisal trade union, says he knows of only three factories that have not put workers into cassa integrazione. One of them, Olympia, won a big contract in Dubai. Under Italy’s two-tier labour system, Mr Pantaleo is more concerned at the plight of the workers officially known as “atypical” but commonly called “precarious”, meaning those on short-term contracts who receive minimal state support when work runs out. No one knows their numbers, he says with a shrug.
Some studies suggest that the rising numbers of “precarious” make up 15 per cent of Italy’s workforce, as the labour market lurches from old-style inflexible security to a living-on-the-edge merry-go-round of short fixed contracts. Women and workers in the poorer south predominate among the atypicals.
Antonio, one of the “precarious”, is to be found hanging around a bar for warmth and company. His state benefit of about €550 ($734, £495) a month expired six months ago.
He has another four years until his pension starts. It is a long wait, he laughs.