Italian female workers made redundant ‘so they can stay at home and look after the kids’

1 Jul

I had to read a Guardian news story twice to check I’d got the facts and the date right: an engineering firm in Northern Italy has made 13 out of the 18 women it employed redundant in a cost-cutting move, but none of the 12 male employees were selected for redundancy.

I know from experience that Italy isn’t the most forward-thinking country in terms of gender equality in the workplace. When I lived there 20 years ago, I worked for a firm that had two men at the top, and all the rest of the 30 or so staff were female. Except that the male owners seemed to think it was OK to shout loudly and publicly at their female sales staff for not making targets, or because they hadn’t managed to secure any extra business from a current client.  One of the bosses even shouted me down, claiming he knew English better than I did – and I only put up with it because I was enjoying my time so much in a vibrant, vivacious culture.

I would have stayed had I not had career ambitions – knowing that, if my life would become anything like the women in that office doing the same job for 10 or 15 years with no hope of promotion. Yet somehow I thought that in the intervening years things would have moved on. Had I stayed, would I have become one of the women who focuses unflinchingly on her children and her sugo rather than having her eye on a career prize? I guess I’ll never know.

In the meantime, the bosses from the Italian engineering firm Ma-Vib are reportedly justifying their decision on their belief that a women’s place is in the home, and that her salary would only ever be a second income for the household. To add insult to injury, a strike held in protest was ignored by all bar one of the male employees.

While in the UK we may feel shocked at such overtly discriminatory treatment, are we really that far away from it? The TUC’s Women and Recession report shows that female redundancy is higher than that of men – and often it’s working mothers doing part-time jobs whose hours or roles are cut. I certainly know several women who’ve lost out in the last couple of years, and their ‘second income’ was crucial in keeping the household afloat.

So, while these kind of job losses on a smaller scale may not make the headlines, the principle is uncomfortably similar.



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