Covid-19: Italian co-ops call for higher social protections for workers

Italian artists and showbiz workers are struggling to make ends meet

“Italy is not an apocalypse, life is still going on,” says Gaia Bellino, a lighting technician from Milan.

As the country is suffering the worst outbreak of Coronavirus in Europe, artists and workers in the showbiz industry are struggling to make ends meet.

Ms Bellino says securing work under these conditions is very difficult. Gatherings are currently forbidden and the government has locked down the entire country in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

Public transport continues to work in Milan but rides are less frequent. Shops, cafes and restaurants are allowed to stay open only between 6am and 6pm providing they can ensure that customers maintain a one-meter distance between one another.

Ms Bellino is a member of Doc Servizi, a co-operative for professionals of the show business industry, such as musicians, technicians and actors. A network of workers connected through a platform, the co-op provides legal support, tax services and training for its members while acting as an agency on their behalf.

Gaia Bellino

She joined in 2016 to get support with paperwork and tax compliance tasks. “Work is project to project,” she says, adding that freelancers have to do everything on their own, which can place extra burdens on them. The co-op also ensures that its members work in safe environments.

Doc Servizi says the state of emergency is bringing the entire entertainment, culture and creativity sector to its knees. With events and public gatherings being forbidden and events being cancelled or postponed, workers are losing their income without receiving any indemnisations.

Related: World’s co-ops take coronavirus measures

Unlike other workers, show business workers are not entitled to sick leave if they have worked less than 100 days a year. Furthermore, they do not have access to a social safety net (FIS) for job loss if they have less than 90 working days at the same client. Since the majority of the events they work on are short term projects, most professionals in the sector cannot secure access to the social safety net.

“There are no masks for those who have no certainty of employment or income,” Chiara Chiappa, president of the Centro Studi Doc Foundation, said in a petition calling on the government to provide support to workers affected.

The Foundation carries out research, training and networking activities to support the dignity of work, with particular attention to art, creativity, culture, knowledge and technology. Their work is supported by Doc Servizi.

Pietro Ettore Gozzini a musician and teacher from Brescia, a medium city in Lombardy, the Italian region most affected by the Coronavirus, has also been impacted by the crisis.

He joined Doc Servizi in 2013 to get support with some of the contractual and bureaucratic aspects of the work and gain more protection.

“I decided to rely on a co-operative because at the beginning I was not able to bear all the expenses as a self-employed worker,” he says, adding that he had never been involved in co-ops before or known about their existence.

“The coronavirus is significantly affecting both my activity as a musician and as a music teacher. I am in touch with many people who are going through the same kind of experience. So far I have had to cancel four gigs in my province, and at the same time the music schools in which I teach are temporarily closed. So, for the whole month of March, I won’t work as a musician,” he explains.

At the moment he is giving private lessons in homes. “This is one of the few things I can do as a teacher,” he adds.

Mr Gozzini has signed Doc Servizi’s petition in an attempt to help raise awareness about the impact the crisis is having on the sector and secure better protections for workers.

He says: “In a difficult time like this one, the main problem is that our category does not have access to social protection. In some cases, we can have access to these, but the conditions for obtaining social security protections, such as the minimum of working days per month or year, are usually difficult to fulfil for a show business worker.”

Doc Servizi’s petition is asking for sickness allowance to be recognised from day one, rather than require a minimum of 100 days of paying into the system from January of the previous year.

In terms of the involuntary unemployment benefit (INASPI), the petition asks for the abolition of the dismissal “ticket” in the event of dismissal for a justified reason due to the Coronavirus crisis. INASPI is a cash benefit granted, on request, in the event of involuntary redundancy or expiry of a fixed-term employment contract, to employed workers, which includes apprentices, co-operative members, artistic staff and fixed-term workers of public administrative bodies.

The petition also asks that the benefit be paid to the intermittent workers of the show for all periods of suspension of activity, even in the case of constant employment, for a period at least equal to that worked, also considering the working days for rehearsals.

Italy’s social security system guarantees access to a social safety net (FIS) for intermittent workers. However, the petition points out that this should be commensurate with the work days carried out during the previous year and not only with the work cancelled in the first crisis period. 

Events have also been cancelled beyond April affecting their prospects on long term.

“Maybe I haven’t been asked yet to work at a future event but I might have been asked. I cannot prove that though. If you look at past events you see what happened and understand the possibility of work having been commissioned. For example, during Design Week I may have gotten 10 days of work. But with everything being put on hold, it might not happen,” says Ms Bellino.

Furthermore, the petition asks that access to a social safety net (FIS) be guaranteed by extending it to workers with less than 90 days of seniority with a single client, an almost impossible requirement for those who are not dependent members of co-operatives or stable theatres, and that there is also a provision for small businesses with less than five employees.

Uncertainty is also affecting the sector. “The problem is we don’t know. I am not claiming unemployment benefits because we might be working next month. We just don’t know. There is no clarity, the media say something, the government says something, and the doctors say something else. It is difficult to fully understand the situation,” adds Ms Bellino.

She says she is in the process of applying for a mortgage to buy a home. That may be put on hold now as well due to uncertainty around her future income.

She signed the petition launched by Doc Servizi but does not have high expectations about the impact it might have because she thinks the government does not understand her job or her sector. “They need to acknowledge the importance of the sector for Italy’s economy. Around 7,000 people are members of Doc Servizi. But in Italy around 24 million people work in the entertainment industry. So it accounts for a large portion of the workforce in Italy.”

“It never occurred to me that I would not be allowed to do my job,” she added.

Dr Francesca Martinelli, a researcher at Doc Servizi, said the organisation is continuing to put pressure on the government to give the show business sector access to the benefits that other workers do – but this hasn’t happened yet. The organisation is expecting the government to issue a new decree today (12 March).

The Alliance of Italian Cooperatives estimates that for the first half of 2020, the Coronavirus crisis has impacted 6,000 workers in the show business sector, costing the sector an estimated at €400m.

Overall, the Alliance believes that 130,000 employees of various co-operatives across the country might be at risk of losing their incomes, from those active in social care and healthcare to those in education, cultural heritage and show business, logistics, cleaning, catering and agriculture. In a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister at Palazzo Chigi, the Alliance asked that redundancy payment is available for all workers affected by the crisis. It also asked the Prime Minister to provide fair compensation for companies providing contracted services that will be affected by the closures and extend the tax and financial concessions provided to the red areas to other areas affected.

The European platform co-operative of freelancer artists Smart has also got behind the petition calling for more social protections for workers of the showbiz industry.

“Like never before, it is it necessary to carry out joint actions, and to overcome the fragmentation and isolation that characterise the sector: employer organisations, trade unions, businesses and workers must form a common front,” said Smart in a statement, adding that it was ready to commit itself to “building the unity of purpose necessary to guarantee greater protection for workers and show business workers.”

Eleonora Vanni, president of Legacoopsociali, the national league of social co-ops, said that Social co-operatives have been hit hard by Italy’s restrictive measures. “But, together with the legitimate requests for interventions to safeguard companies and workers’ income, the active and supportive presence of social co-operation is great,” she added in a statement.

“There are many social, health and educational operators who provide their activities every day in critical conditions …in order not to abandon the elderly, minors, families and all fragile people. In respect of the protection of health and the protection of operators, we are there. Don’t forget it.”

“The Italian battle against Coronavirus has affected social co-operatives from the early stages,” says Valerio Pellirossi from Federsolidarietà, a federation of social co-operatives.

He explains that several social co-operatives running creches and primary school had to temporarily close down. He estimates that 800 social co-operatives have ceased activity with 65,000 workers staying at home following the announcements on 5 March. Further restrictions imposed by the government resulted in more closures. His organisation wrote to the Prime Minister on 12 March to warn that these closures have resulted in the interruption of assistance for six million people, with 200,000 workers affected.

With the total number of infections continuing to go up every day, the Italian economy continues to suffer. As Italy braces itself for a recession, professionals of the show business industry and from other sectors affected by the lockdown face the prospect of being out of work for a long period.

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