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Italy government scraps work “voucher” system

by Claudio Tucci

Italy’s “Jobs Act” labor reform has undergone its first major modification: the government has approved a decree law that eliminates all the norms on part time work and the voucher system. The system involved vouchers that employers could acquire at social security agency INPS or even in tobacco stores, and use to pay for one hour’'s work.

It will no longer be possible for anyone to use these vouchers, neither families, companies or the public administration, in any sector (from agriculture to tourism and commerce).

In this way, the government sidestepped a challenge from trade union CGIL that had won support for an abrogating referendum on May 28 in hopes of doing away with the voucher system. The referendum asked citizens if they wanted to suppress the voucher system and extend protections for workers employed in the procurement sector.

A transitional phase is foreseen for the voucher system: it will be possible to use them until the end of the year, to allow those who have bought them before the introduction of the decree law to be able to “spend” them.

The effect of the decree law is to make the vouchers unusable in the long term for part time or temporary jobs. Once the halt to the system starts, with the publication of the government’s decree, a regulatory vacuum is likely to be created, along with a lot of confusion. To use a housemaid for a few hours, for example, a family will have to go to a labor consultant and make the domestic service “official” with a short-term contract or an “on call” contract, if they respect the age limits foreseen by current law.

There will also be negative repercussions in the agriculture sector. Paolo Gentiloni’s government has said it is working towards offering families and companies normative tools for regulating small and odd jobs (private lessons to students, gardening, maintenance). That is to avoid opening the floodgates to unofficial work, which is already a huge problem in Italy.

The change will also be significant regarding contracts: the abolishing of the norms that limit joint responsibility in contracts means that the client company will have to answer for any violations committed by the contractor company against a worker.

Explaining the government’s move, Gentiloni told a news conference “it is a decision that frees us from an ideological discussion that would not have helped us, and confirms our commitment to equip Italy with a modern and worthy labor market.”

“We did it with the awareness that Italy did not need an electoral campaign in coming months on these sorts of subjects, and that this decision is coherent with the position that has developed in recent weeks in Parliament,” he said.

“Dividing the country in the coming two, three months between those who demonize the vouchers, and those who, while recognizing their limits and with the clear intention to reform them, would have been forced to defend them, would have been a serious mistake for Italy. Now a new phase is beginning,” Gentiloni added. “We will open a discussion in coming weeks already with unions, business leaders and Parliament.”