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Sunday, July 03, 2005

I came to Italy 3 years ago

I came to Italy 3 years ago. At first I was enchanted. I was a like tourist visiting foreign places. Everything I saw was so beautiful, from the landscape to the wonderful Renaissance art in the old churches and museums. It didn't seem a part of my reality! It was like a wonderful dream. Then, as they say, I woke up.

I quit my job in the US before coming to Italy, and since I wasn't the heiress to some multi-million euro company, I had to find a job to get some fresh euros in my slowly disappearing bank account fast.

'I'll get a job, any type of job- how simple it will be' I thought. Then I started my search. It was not simple at all. Finally I found a job. It wasn't what I wanted, but it sounded OK.

They asked that I do a '16 hour prova' first before offering me a contract.'What is a prova?', I asked the prospective employer. The response was that it sort of like a trial period before working, to see both if the employer likes the employee and visa versa. My first job in the US had a 'prova' period. I earned a lower salary in my first month and then after a review I received a lot more.
'How much will I earn during the 'prova'? I asked'. Their response was 'Nothing'. 'Nothing?' I nearly yelled. In Italian perhaps working for nothing is called 'prova' but in English it is called 'slavery' and I didn't want any part of it, but after several discussions with friends I did finally agree to work for 4 hours a day for 4 days without pay.

The job I did during the prova period turned out to be mildly interesting and pleasant (although being paid for it would have made it a lot more interesting and pleasant), so I signed a 30 day contract to work for this company, but when I actually showed up for my paying job, it was completely different from what I did in my 'prova' I don't know what my 'prova' was for.

All I know was that I hated the job. At the end of the month I decided to quit it and find another job. 'Don't quit it.' Several people told me. 'Jobs are hard to find.' I did anyway, but after a lengthy search in which my money was running out, I accepted a part-time job that was also not what I wanted to do but had a slight promise of advancement.

After a temporary contract of one month, this place of employment gave me one for 6 months. It was at a school, and like most schools, June came around. The students had the summer off, and I was out of a job. 'You can apply for unemployment insurance' people told me. So I went to my local INPS (Unemployment Insurance and Social Security) office and picked up an application to apply for unemployment insurance.

It was 7 pages long. 6 for me and 1 for the employer to fill out. I am used to the US where it is one page and they contact the employers, although this may differ from state to state since each US state control their Unemployment Insurance practices. To make a long story short, I filled out my forms, got my employer to fill out theirs and then when back to the INPS office with all forms filled out. They told me that I couldn't collect anything.

That day found out that there was a new law passed a few months prior to my application. According to this law, a person has to have 3 years of work contributions in order to collect anything. Why they couldn't tell me this before when they handed me the stack of papers I'll never know.

I was in Italy for less than 2 years at this point. Obviously I didn't have 3 years of contributions.

Officials in Italy don't seem to like giving out information. They like to keep people guessing about everything, especially benefits.

They also told me that I only have 7 months of contributions. I then said 'No, you are wrong, you have 8 months of contributions. 7 months at the school and one month at another company. ' They had no record of my first job. It seems that I was working 'in the black'. Illegally. Not that I knew it. This job gave no contributions to the State of Italy for me, so it is like that month didn't exist.

My third job is the one I have now. I am not an employee though, even though I received a temporary work contract from them.

I know this because I called them after 2 months and asked when I was going to get my first paycheck. 'Never' was their response 'You are not an employee. You are a free-lancer. We will transfer the funds directly to your account without a paystub or anything written sent to you.' Just like in the US, as a free-lancer I have no employee rights, such as sick days or vacation time or anything, but unlike a free-lancer in the US my salary is not higher to compensate for this.

Companies pay once a month in Italy and according to the contract I signed with them my payday was on the 15th of each month. On the 15th 2 months ago I checked my account. I wasn't paid. On the 16th it was the same. On the 17th when I still wasn't paid I called my employer. 'Oh, we are really busy in the office and haven't gotten around to it.' Was their response. What do you mean 'haven't gotten around to it?' Did they not sign the same contract I did?

I live up to my end of the deal, why can't they live up to theirs? Some people told me I shouldn't stress about the fact that I wasn't paid on time. They told me that eventually I will get paid. To them getting paid on the 18th was just as good as getting paid on the 15th, but that is not the point. I have bills that are due. The Gas company won't wait a few days for their payment. Neither will the landlord.
(Afternote: I was paid on the 21st of the month.)

The next month it was the same hassle getting paid. This time though instead of saying 'We are busy' my employers said 'We paid all the salaries of everyone. It must be your bank that is causing you to not have the funds in your account' Well, I don't think I have the greatest bank in the world, but considering that they only took one day the previous month to process the money transfer, I knew they were lying. I especially knew they were lying after seeing the bank forms that said that this money transfer was INITIATED on the 21st. (Afternote: I was paid on the 22.)

What is going to happen next month?

I am so tired of hearing the CentroSinistra and Sinistra (Italian left wing) blame the Multinational Companies (American ones at least) of exploiting their workers. I worked at McDonald's (one of their Most Hated employers) while I was going to school. I not only had paid sick days and vacation days, I also NEVER had to worry that I wouldn't get paid, or I wouldn't get paid on a certain day, and compared to the peanuts that the Italians call salaries, I didn't earn what would be considered an exploited persons pay.