Uncertain or Flexible: Italy and Great Britain

Emblem tranpoзиция by Mary Ranaldo

Over the last few years, the labor market has undergone important changes in Italy and the UK due to a deep economic crisis that has involved not only Europe, but also the whole world. In many regards, these two European countries are very different. One example of this is in the terms used to describe the labor market where we find that uncertainty is the word most commonly associated with this topic in Italy, while the word flexibility is heard more in the UK. Italians are always uncertain when it comes to jobs: they are uncertain about finding one, above all a good one, and, if they are lucky, they are uncertain about keeping it. Britons have a more practical way of thinking about work: finding a job is a matter of time and passing from job to job is called flexibility.

In Italy, the labor market is a problem which deeply affects our everyday life, above all the incertezza of finding a job. The topic of work has defined every government in recent years. After the economic boom from the 1960s to the 1980s, the governments that followed had to face the issue of high unemployment due to recessions and structural changes. And the inability to achieve a sustained improvement continues to this very day, with every political party on the left and right trying to address this crucial issue, and candidates in political elections taking advantage of the uncertainty by promising to create millions of jobs.

According to the statistics, there are around 3 million unemployed people in Italy, and the unemployment rate has risen above 10 percent. However, this situation may be even more serious than it looks as uncertainty about finding a job leads many people to stop even searching for one. They are called inactive people, those who prefer to stay at home rather than looking for work because they are discouraged by the fact that their search could last for many months or even years, and feel they are not able to find a good job or what they would find is unstable and poorly paid. This is a very Italian issue.

This climate of uncertainty causes two very different results. On the one hand, individuals are bound to accept unfavorable working conditions, lower wages than on average, and unstable positions. On the other hand, those who reject underpaid jobs or stressful work conditions, prefer to leave the country, finding a better job and life abroad – the so called fuga di cervelli (brain drain) which deprives our country of its precious heritage and hope for the future. This issue is underestimated by our government, as the effects of young people leaving the country will become a major problem in the years to come when the elderly population will be larger than the employed one, and the work of a few won’t be able to sustain the burden of many. Italy already has the second oldest population in Europe. In the future, there will be many more retired people than younger ones, and the consequence will be uncertainty in regard to receiving a pension. As I write at this moment, the government is thinking about increasing the retirement age to 67, which is definitely a very unpopular measure.

The uncertainty of keeping a job, even if it is underpaid or stressful, also causes collateral damage like increasing health problems, above all depression, or the spread of other negative feelings such as rage, fear, and frustration. Young Italians are the angriest because they are placed at the greatest disadvantage of all social groups. The failure of our government is the failure to understand that work gives dignity to human existence, it gives individuals the possibility to be relatively free. The incertezza of work leads to incertezza in life.

By contrast, Great Britain offers more job opportunities, and many Italians choose this country as their place to live or restart their life. Here the uncertainty of the job market is called flexibility, which has created a healthy system of employment in recent years, at least relative to other European countries, above all Italy.

Britain’s government is committed to investing in new solutions that will help young people find a job. Britain’s economy is beginning to improve despite the recent Brexit and disastrous forecasts and predictions. According to the statistics, the unemployment rate is below that of other European countries, at around 4.5%, the lowest since 1975, with just 1.6 million unemployed people.

Britain has never enjoyed the myth of a fixed job comparable to the Italian posto fisso, which gave certainty to individuals trying to establish a family. It is not unusual for a British worker to change their job several times during their lifetime. They can find different kinds of work, and losing a position is not perceived to be tragic, as it would in Italy.

The world of work in Britain is very competitive, but if someone demonstrates the will to grow and takes initiative, they can become a manager or assume responsibility for a team, even at the age of 25, while in Italy at that age people are still studying or have an internship. British contracts often include a package of benefits which allow workers to have a certain sense of stability and hope for the future. Another important difference between the two countries is that meritocracy is highly valued in Britain. An employer appraises the individual’s skills, their willingness to improve, and does not consider relationships at all. This is a tremendous problem in Italy, as the key positions in our public sector and sometimes in the private sector as well are occupied by individuals who have become managers due to relationships. And there is nothing worse than incompetent and incapable managers running a company. According to some people, this is the main problem behind the corruption and incompetence of Italian public companies.

Of course, Brexit represents a crucial step in Britain’s future, and, when the country officially leaves the EU in 2019, it will have an important effect on the job market. At the moment, there are negative forecasts, and a sense of uncertainty is affecting the British population. Perhaps their heavy involvement in European affairs over the last few years has undermined their proverbial self-confidence, causing them to move from flexibility to uncertainty. We will see.