Italian Bureaucracy Explained - Part I

This is the first installment of a multi-part series on Italian bureaucracy; every part will examine a specific bit of bureaucracy and the reasons behind it (if any). It is a loose series; topics will be treated whenever I come across them, or on request.

Recently a mail from Human Resources landed in my inbox, explaining that the company could no longer accept resignations in free form, but that starting on March 5th, 2008 an official form had to be used; more specifically, resignations had to be registered with the Ministry of Work, which in turn would make available a certified resignation letter for use with the employer.

At first glance this sounds ridicoulous: why complicate such a simple matter as a resignation by introducing a layer of bureaucracy?

As it turns out, this procedure makes sense.

Italian labour law is quite rigid, and gives a lot of the power to the employee; for example, it is very difficult for an employer to fire an employee, and can be done so only in specific circumstances (an employee is extremely negligent, a restructuring plan has been approved by the Ministry of Work etc.). In a regular (i.e. unlimited) employment contract most of the power goes to the employee, and very little to the employer. The employee can switch jobs at any given time, yet the employer cannot fire the employee without a "just cause".

From the employer's point of view this creates a huge disadvantage: once an employee is taken on board, he has to be retained forever. Thus some employers have adopted a dubious practice: as a condition for hiring an employee, a signed (but not dated) resignation letter is required. Therefore, the employer "regains" the possibility of firing an employee.

In order to stop this practice, the Ministry of Work was forced to introduce a safeguard: resignations are only valid if they are logged and certified by the Ministry.

Another possibility alltogether would be to reform the labour market, and allow for more flexibility in the workforce. This has been attempted in 2002, sweetening the pill by conceding every laid-off employee a compensation of 2 year's salary - the reaction of the Unions? A general strike. Needless to say that the reform fell through.

If you've read this far, please leave a comment below.

Thanks to Rosario and Mario for providing bureaucratical enlightment.