Emerging Hybrid Areas of Work in Italy: Blurring Boundaries between Self-Employment and Dependent Employment

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Annalisa MURGIA, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Valeria PULIGNANO, KU Leuven University, Belgium
Since the end of the 90s, the academic debate has focused on how processes of deregulation and flexibilisation have eroded the ‘standard employment relationship’ traditionally embodied in a (male) employee with an open-ended and full-time contract, and who enjoys the full protection of the welfare system. Specific attention has been paid to how the emerging ‘grey zones’ (Supiot, 1999; Countouris, 2007) have contributed to the creation of strongly segmented insider/outsider labour markets by inducing the growth of new forms of social inequality.

In our contribution, we intend to reflect on solo self-employment, a contractual arrangement which is growing apace in Europe, while the share of self-employed workers with employees remains relatively stable. We take the case of Italy, where solo self-employment represents 15% of the entire employed population. Moreover, Italy is one of the few European countries to have introduced new legal forms of employment in between self-employment and dependent employment.

Our findings are based on a qualitative study conducted in Northern Italy. Thirty narrative interviews have been realised with young-adult solo self-employed workers, with a tertiary education level, but experiencing different working conditions. Indeed, some research participants had a job consistent with their educational qualification and some others markedly distant from it.

The paper investigates, on the one side, the strategies enacted by solo self-employed workers to deal with the risks of their specific employment relations. On the other side, we analyse how the interviewed workers positioned their self-representation questioning the dominant discourse which counterposes (successful) self-entrepreneurs and (struggling) precarious workers.

In the conclusion, we discuss emerging social representations enacted by solo self-employed workers, who are not willing to be victimised, but who make explicit their difficulties in accessing social protection, as well as the fact that they miss a collective representation able to recount their working conditions.