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Business and Workplace Culture

Italy - Business and Workplace Culture


The accepted language of business is Italian although many British and American companies tend to employ English-speaking staff. In recent years, English jargon has sneaked into the workplace and it is possible for native English speakers to carry out basic conversations with their Italian co-workers. The Italian workplace is rather formal as compared to those in the UK or the US. The hierarchy within the workplace is very rigid and there is little visible association between employees and managers. The language that is used in offices mirrors this formality as an employee is expected to address his/her manager using “lei” instead of the familiar “tu”.

Italian society has long followed traditional gender-based societal roles where the man is the breadwinner while the woman is the homemaker. This is one of the main reasons why Italy has among the lowest rates of female employment in the West. The Global Gender Gap Report 2013 ascertained the gap between the sexes in every country and accordingly gave them a ranking. Seven of the top ten countries were European and yet, Italy came in at a dismal ranking of 71. Women who do manage to break into the workplace face a tough time working their way up the corporate ladder as women hold less than 10 per cent of all management positions. The gender pay gap is a problem throughout Europe but Italy comes in at one of the lowest with just a 5 per cent gap, which means that even though a woman would find it tougher to land a job, she is more likely to get a fair salary.

Disability discrimination is a widespread problem in Italy where less than 5 per cent of disabled people are employed. Racial discrimination is an enduring problem and immigrants are often faced with patterns of discrimination at the workplace. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is most common in the South.

Both direct and indirect discrimination are prohibited in Italy. There are several laws that protect against discrimination with specific laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Convention No. III of June 28, 1958 (within the International Labor Organization) forbids discrimination in employment while Convention No. 100 of June 29, 1951 ensures equal pay for men and women. Harassment based on discrimination in the workplace is strictly prohibited and is defined as any unwanted conduct that violates a person's dignity or creates an offensive environment. An employee who is subjected to discrimination or harassment is entitled to recover damages. The employee can seek compensation for moral suffering, or existential damages – if their quality of life was reduced or biological damages –if his/her state of health was adversely affected, or all three. Furthermore, the Racial Equality Directive 2000/43/EC and the Employment Equality Directive 2000/78/EC of the EU, prohibits racial and sexual orientation discrimination in the field of employment. It is important to note that there are several US anti-discrimination and anti-harassment statutes expressly for extraterritorial application. These acts, such as the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, are meant to protect U.S. employees working overseas.

Italian industrial relations have long been considered conflictual and poorly institutionalized but since the early 1990s, they have undergone a dramatic transformation. During the 1970s and 1980s there were several attempts to remodel Italian labor relations by promoting greater centralization; unfortunately, these attempts only succeeded in creating intra-organizational struggles which resulted in decentralization.

During the 1990s, the Italian business and labor leaders along with political leaders came together to reform industrial relations on a national level. The reform initiatives included the abolition of the wage indexation mechanism, the privatization of public employment and laws regulating the right to strike. These major reform efforts reduced industrial conflict, rationalized labor relations and restructured the system of collective bargaining (negotiations between employers and a group of employees).

Strikes or temporary work stoppages are very common in Italy. Most strikes involve the transport sector which can create problems travelling to and from work. The strikes are invariably announced in advance and so it would be wise to stay informed about any upcoming transport strikes. Information on upcoming strikes is often posted on signs at train stations, metro stations, and bus stops. Workers within a single company can belong to different unions. This means that when workers from a specific labor union go on strike together, services may not be disrupted and sometimes travel is not affected at all.


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