Italy is a longstanding, multiparty parliamentary democracy. Executive authority is vested in the Council of Ministers, headed by the president of the Council (the Prime Minister). The Head of State (President of the Republic) nominates the Prime Minister after consulting with leaders of all political forces in Parliament. The current Parliament was elected in free and democratic elections in April 1996. The judiciary is independent, but critics complain that some judges are politicized.
The armed forces are under the control of the Ministry of Defense. Control over the Carabinieri, a military security force, was transferred in March from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Defense; however, the Ministry of Interior retains authority over this force in matters of internal security. Four separate police forces report to different ministerial or local authorities. Under exceptional circumstances, the Government may call on the army to provide security in the form of police duty in certain local areas, thereby freeing the Carabinieri and local police to focus on other duties. For several years, the army supported the police in Sicily and in the province of Naples, areas with high levels of organized crime. The army left Naples at the end of 1997 and Sicily in 1998 but was redeployed back to both locations for a short period in 1999, during which time special actions were in progress against organized crime. In September the Government sent an augmented force to Naples of 500 police and Carabinieri, some of whom wore military-style camouflage battle dress uniforms, to combat criminal violence in the city. Amnesty International (AI) reported numerous allegations that the police used excessive force against individuals, often Roma, refugees, and, increasingly, women, at the time of arrest and initial detention.
Italy has an advanced, industrialized market economy, and the standard of living is high. Small and midsized companies employ from 70 to 80 percent of the work force. Major products include machinery, textiles, apparel, transportation equipment, and food and agricultural products. The Government owns a substantial number of enterprises in finance, communications, industry, transportation, and services, but privatization is moving forward at a measured pace.
The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, and the law and the judiciary generally provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse; however, there were problems in some areas. There were isolated reports of police abuse of detainees; such accusations are investigated by the judiciary. Prisons are overcrowded. The pace of justice is slow, and perpetrators of some serious crimes avoid punishment due to trials that exceed the statute of limitations. Lengthy pretrial detention is a serious problem. The Government has taken steps to combat violence against women and child abuse; however, they remain problems. Societal discrimination against women and discrimination and sporadic violence against immigrants and other foreigners continue to be problems. Child labor, mainly involving immigrant children, persists in the underground economy but is investigated actively. Exploitation of clandestine immigrants is widespread. Trafficking in women and girls to the country for prostitution and forced labor is a growing problem, as is trafficking in children.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings by government officials.
On May 20, 1999, Massimo D'Antona, a senior adviser to the Minister of Labor, was shot and killed outside his home in Rome. The Red Brigades, a terrorist movement, claimed responsibility for the killing. A suspect detained by police in Rome in May subsequently was released, and the investigation continued at year's end.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and cruel or degrading punishment; however, there were reports of isolated incidents in which police abused detainees. Amnesty International, the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), the U.N. Committee Against Torture, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture regularly assess the country's judicial and prison system. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Antigone, which is composed mainly of lawyers, magistrates, and academics, promotes the rights of detainees, works closely with the European Commission for Prevention of Torture, and monitors the prison system.
According to a report issued by AI in June, there are numerous allegations of the deliberate use of excessive force against individuals detained in connection with common criminal offenses or in the course of identity checks. Allegations of mistreatment relate to the time of arrest and first 24 hours in custody and concern both citizens and foreigners, with an increasing number of women appearing as alleged victims. A high proportion of the allegations received by AI concern foreign nationals (many of them from Africa), as well as Roma. In a May letter to penal authorities, AI expressed concern over suits filed the previous month by inmates of the Sassari District Prison, who had been subjected to cruel and degrading punishment. In a separate communication, AI referred to allegations of mistreatment at newly established temporary detention centers for aliens (see Section 2.d.).
Overcrowded and antiquated prisons continue to be a problem. The prison system has a capacity of 35,000 but holds over 53,000 detainees, of whom 3,500 were added in 1999 alone. Older facilities tend to lack outdoor or exercise space, compounding the difficulties of close quarters. Approximately 54 percent of detainees are serving sentences; the other 46 percent consist mainly of persons awaiting trial or the outcome of an appeal. Nearly one in three pensioners has been jailed for a drug violation. One in four is an alien. Of drug users, almost 10 percent are HIV positive. Over 80 prisoners died while in jail in 1999; 53 committed suicide, with a reported 920 unsuccessful suicide attempts and some 6,500 acts of self-mutilation.
In the spring these conditions led to protests both by prisoners and guards. A 2-day guard strike in Sassari that left inmates without food or water led to a prisoner riot in March, which was followed by retaliation by prison guards in April. In early May, 82 Sassari guards and wardens were arrested in connection with the April abuses. These arrests provoked sympathy strikes and demonstrations by prison guards across the country, who protested their low pay, long hours, and the conditions of tension and risk under which they work. During the same period, prisoner protests broke out at several jails and the Parliament debated proposals for decriminalizing certain crimes, the shortening of sentences, alternative punishments to imprisonment, and the expulsion of non-EU nationals who are sentenced to prison terms. The Pope's call in June for a Jubilee-Year clemency increased the pressure on parliamentarians and raised prisoner expectations; however, proponents of such measures could not obtain the necessary two-thirds support in each chamber. The Government and opposition forces were unable to agree, and no action was taken by year's end.
The Government permits the independent monitoring of prison conditions by parliamentarians, local human rights groups, the media, and other organizations.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Detainees are allowed prompt and regular access to lawyers of their choosing (although occasional lapses in this general rule have been alleged) and to family members. If detainees are indigent, the State provides a lawyer. Within 24 hours of being detained, the examining magistrate must decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to an arrest. The investigating judge then has 48 hours in which to confirm the arrest and recommend whether the case goes to trial. In exceptional circumstances, usually in cases of organized crime figures, where there is danger that attorneys may attempt to tamper with evidence, the investigating judge may take up to 5 days to interrogate the accused before the accused is allowed to contact an attorney. The U.N. Human Rights Committee, the treaty monitoring body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, recommended that this 5-day period be reduced and that all detainees have access to legal advice immediately upon arrest.
Preventive detention can be imposed only as a last resort, or if there is clear and convincing evidence of a serious offense, such as crimes involving the Mafia, or those related to drugs, arms, or subversion. In these cases, a maximum of 2 years of preliminary investigation is permitted. Except in extraordinary situations, preventive custody is not permitted for pregnant women, single parents of children under 3 years of age, persons over 70 years of age, or those who are seriously ill. Preventive custody can be imposed only for crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of not less than 4 years.
Magistrates' interrogations of persons in custody must be recorded on audio tape or videotape to be admissible in judicial proceedings. Prosecutors are required to include all evidence favorable to the accused in requests for preventive detention. The defense may present any favorable evidence directly to the court.
There is no provision for bail, but judges may grant provisional liberty to suspects awaiting trial. As a safeguard against unjustified detention, panels of judges (liberty tribunals) review cases of persons awaiting trial and rule whether continued detention is warranted. Persons in detention include not only those awaiting trial, but also individuals awaiting the outcome of a first or second appeal (see Section 1.e.). The Constitution and the law provide for restitution in cases of unjust detention.
The law prohibits punishment by internal exile or exile abroad.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair judicial process.
There are three levels of courts. A 1998 law that aimed to restructure and expedite the judicial process established that a single judge would hear cases at the level of courts of first instance. Implementation of the measure's civil provisions began in June 1999, while changes in criminal proceedings took force in January. At the second level, separate courts hear appeals for civil and penal cases. Decisions of the Court of Appeals can be appealed to the highest court, the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) in Rome, but only for reasons related to correct application of the law, not a case's merit.
The law provides for trials to be fair and public, and the authorities observe these provisions. The law grants defendants the presumption of innocence. Defendants have access to an attorney sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense and can confront witnesses. All evidence held by prosecutors normally is made available to defendants and their attorneys. Defendants can appeal verdicts to the highest appellate court.
Both domestic and European institutions criticize the slow pace of justice in the country, which is due in part to cumbersome and frequently changing procedures, unclear or contradictory legal provisions, and an inadequate number of judges. In April the National Statistical Institute (ISTAT) reported that the average trial lasts 35 months; appeal procedures can add another 59 months. The length of trials varies by region; those in the north tend to be shorter than those in the south. The European Court of Human Rights noted the high number of complaints filed against the country in 1999 and the number of adverse decisions (44 of 120) that the court rendered. These decisions almost always centered on excessive trial delays. In June the Council of Europe's (COE) Committee of Ministers reiterated to the COE parliamentary assembly that excessive delays in the administration of justice constituted "an important danger, in particular for the respect of the rule of law." While noting that Italian authorities shared these concerns, the ministers observed that the trend in the number of new cases referred to the Court had not changed.
Excessive trial delay has also complicated the outcome of judicial processes involving "clean hands" investigations of corruption launched in 1991. Public prosecutors uncovered numerous instances of illegal arrangements between businessmen and political figures, including illicit financing of political parties, as well as ties between elected officials and organized crime. Over 1,300 persons were either convicted and sentenced or accepted plea bargains. Those sentenced to prison terms, generally for periods of 3 years, were able to benefit from a legal system that allows alternative punishment for persons whose sentences do not exceed 4 years. Thus few individuals served jail sentences as a result of the trials. The most sensational cases involved multiple accusations against two former prime ministers, Giulio Andreotti and Silvio Berlusconi. With regard to the latter, two cases ended at the appeals level (following lower court convictions) when judicial delays and maneuvers caused the trials to exceed the statute of limitations. Berlusconi won acquittals in two other appeals cases, however, as well as one at a lower court level, and cited these outcomes as vindication, signifying that the original charges had been an effort by elements in the judiciary to achieve political objectives through prosecutorial means. Milan's chief public prosecutor retorted that Berlusconi's criticisms were aimed at undermining the legitimacy of investigating magistrates. In the case of (now) senator-for-life Andreotti, prosecutors relied heavily in two separate trials on testimony by turncoat Mafia witnesses ("pentiti"). These trials ended with court criticisms of both the prosecution and defendant. The court stated that prosecutors failed to produce concrete evidence backing up vague and contradictory testimony by the pentiti. Other court observations, which asserted that Andreotti had lied at the trial, fell short of resolving doubts about his conduct.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law safeguards the privacy of the home, and the authorities respect this provision. Searches and electronic monitoring may be carried out only under judicial warrant and in carefully defined circumstances. Violations are subject to legal sanctions.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
However, courts are sensitive to criticism and impose fines for "defamation." In May Member of Parliament Alessandra Mussolini was sued for $600,000 (1.2 billion lire) by two judges on the highest appeals court. Mussolini had criticized as a "killer sentence," a court ruling that failed to consider the pregnancy of a rape victim as an aggravating factor, warranting a heavier penalty. In July a court levied a $27,000 (55 million lire) fine against weekly magazine Panorama for a 1997 article that defamed anti-Mafia prosecutors in Palermo.
Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government does not restrict the right of peaceful assembly, including protests against government policies, except in cases where national security or public safety is at risk. Permits are not required for meetings, but organizers of public demonstrations must notify the police in advance.
Catholic Church authorities strongly opposed gay community plans to hold a world pride week in Rome during the first week in July, calling it a provocation and an affront to the Church's Jubilee Year. However, the event was held, with the cooperation of national and municipal authorities.
While allowing general freedom of association, the Constitution and law prohibit clandestine associations, those that pursue political aims through force, that incite racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, or that advocate fascism. Professional associations organize and operate freely.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
Roman Catholicism is not the state religion but it is the dominant one, in the sense that most citizens were born and raised under Catholic principles, which form part of their culture. Roman Catholic religious instruction is offered in public schools as an optional subject. Students who do not opt to attend can elect to take an alternative course or, in some schools, have a free class period. A 1929 agreement between the Catholic Church and the Government, which was revised in 1984, accords the Church certain privileges. For example, the Church can select Catholic religion teachers, whose earnings are paid by the State. This privilege has led to charges of unconstitutional discrimination.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution and the Law provide for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. Citizens who leave are ensured the right to return. The Constitution forbids deprivation of citizenship for political reasons. Parliament has not yet repealed the XIII transitory provision of the 1947 Constitution, which forbids male heirs of the former king, Umberto I of Savoy, from entering the country. For this reason, in December 1999, royal descendant Vittorio Emanuele IV filed a suit in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg challenging the validity of this constitutional bar. In March the European Parliament voted against including a reference to the Savoy case in its human rights report.
Political asylum is obtained according to the provisions of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. However, the country still lacks a specific law on political asylum; such a law has been pending before Parliament since 1997. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. It provides first asylum to refugees fleeing hostilities or natural disasters. Such refugees are granted temporary residence permits, which must be renewed periodically and do not ensure future permanent residence.
In 1999 the Ministry of Interior approved 912 asylum requests and disapproved some 12,000 others. (In 1998, 7,674 persons applied for asylum, of whom 1,045 were found eligible.) Nationals of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran accounted for over half of the approvals. An immigration law passed in February 1998 levies high fines and penalties for land, air, and sea carriers that board passengers without documentation. There is a huge influx, mainly by sea, of Albanians, Serbs, Kurds, North Africans, Chinese, Nigerians, and other West Africans, many of whom enter the country intending to transit to other member states of the European Union. In April the Government approved a migration accord with Albania (similar to previous such accords with Tunisia and Morocco) aimed at promoting regular annual emigration of 5,000 Albanians. More aggressive coastal patrolling helped reduce illegal immigrant landings in the south. A total of 16,100 illegal immigrants landed in the first 7 months of the year, compared with 35,200 in the same period in 1999 (due largely to the conflict in Kosovo). Some 37,200 such entrants were repatriated over the first 7 months of the year, compared with 34,800 in 1999.
Most illegal migrants paid fees to smugglers; some risked death, as smugglers unloaded their human cargo at sea to avoid capture by patrol boats. Others were forced to engage in illegal activities, were paid substandard wages, or forced to work as prostitutes to pay off debts incurred for their passage (see section 6.f.).
There were no reports of the forced expulsion of persons having a valid claim to refugee status.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. There are no restrictions on women's participation in government and politics; however, few women hold elected office: women hold 4 of 24 cabinet positions, 24 of 325 Senate seats, and 69 of 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
In October the Senate gave final approval to a constitutional change allowing an estimated 3.9 million Italians abroad to vote, and seting aside 12 seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies and 6 in the 315-seat Senate to represent them. However, the law's implementation required administrative action that did not take place by year's end.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views.
5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex (except with regard to hazardous work), religion, ethnic background, or political opinion, and provides some protection against discrimination based on disability, language, or social status. However, societal discrimination persists to some degree.
Violence against women remains a problem. A 1998 ISTAT survey (the first one nationwide) reported that at least 9.4 million women between the ages of 14 and 59 had experienced some form of sexual violence during their lives. The NGO Telefono Rosa which provides a hot line through which abused women can obtain legal, medical, and other assistance, reports that nearly half of all complaints it receives nationally involve physical violence, much of it at home.
Legislation to protect women from physical abuse, including by family members, was updated and strengthened in 1996. The revised law makes the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women easier and shields women who have been objects of attack from publicity. The law treats spousal rape in the same manner as any other rape. Law enforcement and judicial authorities are not reluctant to bring perpetrators of violence against women to justice, but victims sometimes do not press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law. Telefono Rosa notes that the entry of more women into the police force has contributed greatly to an increased willingness of female victims of violence to cooperate with police. Acting on behalf of local government administrations, some 60 local women's associations maintain and run shelters for battered women.
In December 1999, the Labor Ministry and major trade union confederations agreed on a code of conduct regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The code, which follows a 1991 EU recommendation, is to be attached to national sectoral labor contracts as they are negotiated. Telefono Rosa reports that previous ad hoc labor contract sexual harassment provisions have worked as a deterrent to workplace harassment both in the public and private sectors.
Trafficking in illegal immigrant women and girls for prostitution and forced labor is a growing problem (see Section 6.f.).
Women enjoy legal equality with men in marriage, property, and inheritance rights. Males and females enjoy equal access and treatment with regard to education, health, and other government services. Many NGO's actively and effectively promote women's rights. Most are affiliated with labor unions or political parties.
A number of government offices work to ensure women's rights. The Ministry for Equal Opportunity is headed by a woman. In addition, there is an equal opportunity commission in the office of the Prime Minister. The Labor Ministry has a similar commission that focuses on women's rights and discrimination in the workplace, as well as equal opportunity counselors who deal with this problem at the national, regional, and provincial government levels. However, many counselors have limited resources with which to work. A decree approved in May requires civil service recruiters to explain in writing their motives for hiring or promoting a man rather than a woman as a manager. The rule was designed to promote women's access to the higher echelons of public administration and is to apply in offices where women managers number less than a third of the total.
In February 1999, the European Union directive regulating night work for women was incorporated into the law, thus amending the 1977 law that had prohibited night shifts for women. With some exceptions (if pregnant, the mother of a child below 3 years of age, or the mother of a disabled person), women now are allowed to work at night. Liberal maternity leave, introduced to benefit women, adds to the cost of employing them, with the result that employers sometimes find it advantageous to hire men instead. A March law on parental leave, which grants mothers and fathers an equal right to take leave when a child is sick, is aimed at offering equal opportunity without penalizing women at work.
According to research conducted by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Commission, women's salaries are 23.5 percent lower than men's for comparable work. They are underrepresented in many fields, such as management and the professions. According to a recent report based on ISTAT data, women account for 36 percent of the labor force, with yearly growth in female employment of 2 percent (compared with 0.2 percent for men). The National Council for Economy and Labor (CNEL) reported that in 1998, 3 percent of executives in large firms were women, a figure that rose to 5 percent in mid-size firms and 8 percent in small firms. In 1999 women occupied 19.1 percent of public offices, 11.3 percent of teaching positions, and 3.8 percent of media executive positions. Employed women are more likely to have a high school diploma (34.7 percent) than employed men (28.5 percent). The comparable figures for a university degree are 13.8 percent for women and 9.4 percent for men. Unemployment figures show that women still are lagging. In 1999 male unemployment was 9.6 percent, while female unemployment was 16.8 percent. Youth unemployment (ages 15 to 24) was 30.2 percent for men (53.5 in the south) and 39.0 percent for women (66.9 in the south).
The Government demonstrates a strong commitment to children's rights and welfare. As of academic year 1999-2000, schooling became compulsory for children from age 7 to age 18; those unable (or unwilling) to follow the academic curriculum are allowed to shift to vocational training at age 15. This reform was intended to reverse the middle and secondary school dropout rate, which had been high.
Abuse of children is recognized as a societal problem; an estimated 90 percent of violence against minors is committed within their own families. Social workers counsel abused children and are authorized to take action to protect them. The NGO Telefono Azzurro maintains two toll-free hot lines for reporting incidents of child abuse. Research conducted on behalf of the Government by a private institute estimates the number of minors involved in cases of violence (including prostitution) to be 10,000 to 12,000. There are 1,880 to 2,500 minors who work as street prostitutes, of whom 1,500 to 2,300 were trafficked illegal immigrants (predominantly Albanians, other eastern Europeans, and some Nigerians), many of whom were forced into prostitution (see Section 6.f.). Social Service International (a domestic NGO) assists in repatriating unaccompanied immigrant minors.
Several laws and government programs enhance the protection available for minors. In 1996 minors offices staffed by trained police (often women) were established in police stations around the country to offer emergency help for minors and families in distress, as well as counsel in dealing with other government social and judicial entities. A 1997 law established an information gathering network to collect data on the condition of minors. A 1998 immigration law formalized an office in the Ministry of Social Affairs that protects the rights of unaccompanied immigrant minors. (In 1997 this office screened and authorized entry permits for nearly 48,000 minors and 3,000 accompanying adults.) In 1998 the Parliament enacted a law to combat pedophilia, child pornography, the possession of pornographic material involving children, sex tourism involving minors, and trafficking in children (also see Section 6.f.). The law established a special police unit to monitor and prosecute Internet sites devoted to promoting pedophilia.
People With Disabilities
In January a new law replaced previous legislation that forbade discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or the provision of state services. The new law requires companies having 15 or more employees to hire one or more disabled workers: those with 15 to 35 employees must hire 1 disabled worker, those with 35 to 50 must hire 2 , and, for larger companies 7 percent of the work force must consist of the disabled. Companies hiring the disabled are granted certain benefits, including lower social security contributions, while the cost of worker training is borne by the Government. The new law also provides for more severe sanctions against violators.
Some traditional minorities, including French and German speaking Alpine communities in the north and a mixture of German and Slovene speakers in the northeast, enjoy special autonomous status. The special rights of these areas (respectively the Valle d'Aosta, Trentino Alto Adige, and Friuli Venezia Giulia) include use of non-Italian languages in government offices and public schools in the former two.
Roma are another traditional minority, but without a specific geographic base. Of a national total of 115,000, some 70,000 are citizens – most of whom can trace ancestry in the country to the late fourteenth century. Most of these Roma live in the center and south, in conditions indistinguishable from those of other Italians. Roma in the north, whose numbers have swelled with the arrival of 40,000 immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, live in more precarious conditions. Although many municipalities are building permanent settlements, poor housing, limited employment prospects, and inadequate educational facilities remain problems. With limited income and job opportunities available, some turn to begging or petty crime, generating in turn repressive measures by police authorities. Roma communities complain that their language does not enjoy the same privileged status as that granted to minority languages in the autonomous regions.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides for the right to establish trade unions, join unions, and carry out union activities in the workplace. The unions state that they represent between 35 and 40 percent of the work force. Trade unions are free of government controls and have no formal ties with political parties. The right to strike is embodied in the Constitution and is exercised frequently. In April following a period of multiple land, sea, and air transport sector strikes, a new law changed provisions of a 1990 measure that restricted strikes affecting essential public services (e.g., transport, sanitation, and health). The new law defined minimum service to be maintained during a strike as 50 percent of normal, with staffing by at least one-third the normal work force. The law established compulsory cooling off periods and more severe sanctions for violations. Besides transport worker unions, the law also covers lawyers and self-employed taxi drivers. In May a Transport Ministry regulation required all national labor contracts involving employment sectors covered by the law to adjust contract provisions to the new rules. These changes were backed by the three major national trade union confederations, which sought to avoid inconvenience to tourists and the traveling public alike during the Catholic Church's Jubilee Year.
Unions associate freely with international trade union organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Constitution provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and these rights are respected in practice. By custom, although not by law, national collective bargaining agreements apply to all workers, regardless of union affiliation. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. It requires employers that have more than 15 employees and who are found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate any workers affected. In firms with less than 15 workers, an employer must provide the grounds for firing a union employee in writing. If a judge deems the grounds spurious, he can order the employer to reinstate or compensate the worker.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children, and generally it does not occur; however, some illegal immigrants and children were forced into prostitution (see Section 5), and trafficking in illegal immigrant women for prostitution and forced labor, as well as trafficking in illegal immigrant children, are problems (see Section 6.f.).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The law forbids the employment of children under age 15 (with some limited exceptions). There also are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthful occupations for men under age 18, and women under age 21. The enforcement of minimum age laws is difficult in the extensive underground economy. Estimates of the number of child laborers differ, ranging from 30,000 to 300,000 children (the most probable figure may be in the area of 50,000). Most of these cases involve immigrants, but instances involving Italian children also have been reported. Illegal immigrant child laborers from Northern Africa, the Philippines, Albania, and especially China have entered in record numbers every year since 1989, and the influx from China is rising. According to the Carabinieri, an estimated 30,000 illegal Chinese work in sweatshop conditions near Florence, with many minor children working alongside the rest of their families to produce scarves, purses, and imitations of various brand name products. Many of these factories, which face threats of infiltration or coercion by Chinese organized crime, are equipped with escape tunnels to thwart labor inspections. Carabinieri officers who work on child labor developed a videocassette program to educate schoolchildren on child labor laws, their rights as specially protected workers, and workplace hazards.
The Government, employers associations, and unions continue their tripartite cooperation on child labor. Their periodic consultations, begun in 1997, cover such matters as better enforcement of school attendance regulations; programs to reduce the number of school dropouts; faster assistance for families in financial difficulty; further restrictions on exceptions to the minimum wage law; and canceling economic or administrative incentives for companies found to make use of child labor, whether domestically or abroad. The Prime Minister's office provided a toll-free telephone number to report incidents of child labor. The footwear and textile industries have established a code of conduct that prohibits the use of child labor in their international as well as national activities; the code is applicable to subcontractors as well. In 1999 a child labor clause was attached to the national labor contract in the health sector, whereby the parties committed themselves not to use surgical tools produced by child labor. The law forbids forced or bonded labor involving children, and the Government generally enforces this prohibition effectively; however, some illegal immigrant children were forced into prostitution (see Sections 5 and 6.c.), and some of them were trafficked (see Section 6.f.).
The Government ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182 prohibiting the worst forms of child labor following completion of parliamentary action in May.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wages are not set by law, but by collective bargaining agreements on a sector by sector basis. These specify minimum standards to which individual employment contracts must conform. When an employer and a union fail to reach an agreement, courts may step in to determine fair wages on the basis of practice in comparable activities or engagements, although this rarely happens in practice.
A 1997 law reduced the legal workweek from 48 hours to 40. Most collective agreements provide for a 36- to 38-hour workweek. The average contractual workweek is 39 hours but is actually less in many industries. Overtime work may not exceed 2 hours per day or an average of 12 hours per week.
The law sets basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. For most practical purposes, European Union directives on health and safety also have been incorporated into the law. Labor inspectors are from the public health service or from the Ministry of Labor. They are few in number, given the scope of their responsibilities. Courts impose fines and sometimes prison terms for violation of health and safety laws. The Workmen's Compensation Institute reports that there were a million accidents in 1999, involving 1,309 deaths. Accidents occur with the greatest frequency in the underground economy, which employs between 3.5 and 5 million workers. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their continued employment.
f. Trafficking in Persons
Although the law does not address specifically trafficking in persons, it can be prosecuted through application of provisions of a 1958 law on prostitution and other articles of the Penal Code. Trafficking in women and girls for prostitution and forced labor is a growing problem.
Trafficking in women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation involves vulnerable, illegal immigrants, most of whom come from Nigeria and Eastern Europe. The country is also a destination for trafficked women and girls. Varying estimates suggest that nearly 20,000 foreign women – from Albania, Nigeria, Romania, Moldavia, Ukraine, and other countries of Eastern Europe – are involved in prostitution, of whom some 1,500 (according to the social research institute Parsec) may be trafficked forcibly. For some, Italy is only a point of entry, and their ultimate destinations are elsewhere in Western or Northern Europe. Trafficking in children for sweatshop labor is a particular problem in Tuscany's expanding Chinese immigrant community, where children are considered to be part of the family "production unit" (see Section 6.d). The Chinese consulate in Florence cooperates with Carabinieri in persuading families to enroll their children in school.
The Ministry of Equal Opportunity leads an intergovernmental committee charged with monitoring trafficking and coordinating government activity to combat it. Other members include the Ministries of Social Affairs, Justice, Interior, and Foreign Affairs, as well as a special anti-Mafia prosecutorial unit. Major lay and Catholic NGO's concerned with trafficking, among which Parsec and Caritas are the most active, cooperate with this body.
While most prostitution involves women fleeing economic destitution in their home countries, those who are trafficked forcibly are often unable or reluctant to contact the police for help. A 1998 immigration law, for which implementing regulations were completed in November 1999 and assistance programs established in February, provided temporary residence/work permits to such women who seek to escape their exploiters. The legislation permits a temporary stay for victimized women. During this time, victims are provided with shelter, benefits, and services such as counseling and medical assistance, in cooperation with NGO's. They also may be permitted to work or study. If the victim agrees to cooperate with law enforcement and judicial authorities, the residence permit and services are extended for the length of the criminal proceedings. In July the Government set up a toll-free telephone number to help victims take advantage of this program and in its first month of operation received 7,000 calls for help. As a result of these and related policies, almost 750 women were able to benefit from these programs in their first weeks of operation, and significant increases in witness testimony and successful prosecution of traffickers were reported. In October the Ministry of the Interior hosted an international conference on trafficking in persons to focus attention on the issue.
In August 1998, a law was passed to combat abuses against children, including trafficking in children. The NGO, End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT), was a main advocate for this law, which criminalizes prostitution or pornography involving minors, even if committed abroad. In conjunction with other concerned NGO's, ECPAT has worked to ensure that police treat juvenile prostitutes as victims of trafficking, not criminals. In May ECPAT and components of the tourism industry (tour companies, travel agents, computer reservation system personnel, airline companies, airport authorities, and trade unions) initiated a voluntary code of conduct designed to impede sex tourism.