They are the hidden victims of a backward, chauvinist capitalist class, enemy number 1 in a covert war in the workplace. Some 800,000 women are forced out of their jobs every year by unscrupulous and deceitful employers, new official figures show. It is a national scandal known forced resignations, and it works like this:
New recruits are asked to sign, at the start of their employment, a blank or undated letter of resignation, along with their contract. They are told it’s just a formality, and it’s understandable that many don’t question this, when, as in most of the cases, it comes packaged with a prized permanent post. An offer you can’t refuse, you could say.
But then you want to start a family. That’s when the pre-prepared resignation letter is pulled out of the employer’s file, dusted down and dated. And instead of looking forward to maternity leave, the employee is sent home for good. Figures show 90% of cases relate to women who become pregnant.
To make matters worse, there’s only a slim chance of obtaining justice after the event, as it has proved very difficult in the courts to show that the employee didn’t voluntarily hand in their notice.
We are not talking here of a backward country that simply hasn’t caught up with the times. Provisions for maternity are actually pretty good by European standards. But for many women the clock is being turned back, in particular the younger generation: 13% of those born after 1973 lose their jobs through this route compared to 6.8% of those born between 1946 and 1953.
The centre left government of Romano Prodi that was elected in 2006 clamped down on this illegal practice, by introducing an official system of numbering and a 15-day shelf-life for resignation forms. But this had barely been put in place when the subsequent right wing administration of Silvio Berlusconi, elected Spring 2008, effectively neutralised it, thus ensuring Italy has one of the lowest employment rates among women in the EU.
The current ‘technical’ government of Mario Monti is now at loggerheads with unions over plans to change labour laws that will make it easier to fire workers. This isn’t a ‘reform’, according to the more established definition of the word, before neo-liberals began applying it to cases of social regression.
A genuine reform, instead, would be to end a practice that forces women to choose between motherhood and work.
In recent days, Italy’s blogosphere and the opposition Democrats have stepped up campaigning on the issue. Will Monti, who has declared a commitment to ‘fairness’ and ‘equity’, listen?
Italy’s forced resignations in numbers
15% – percentage of permanent contracts that are signed alongside a ‘blank’ resignation letter
2,000,000 - number of workers involved
800,000 – number of women forced to leave their job because of ‘voluntary’ redundancy
90% – percentage of cases in which forced resignations occur following pregnancy
25% – percentage of workers that have at least once been faced with a request to sign a ‘blank’ resignation letter
53% – percentage of forced resignations that occur in companies with at least 15 employees
80% – the percentage of reported cases that cannot be pursued legally