SURVEY: Half of all Italians say salaries are too low

After Italy's government said unemployment benefits were putting Italians off working, survey respondents said low wages and high taxes were a bigger problem.

A protestor shouts slogans during a demonstration on May Day (Labour Day), to mark the international day of the workers, in Turin on May 1, 2023.
A protestor shouts slogans at a march in Turin on Labour Day, 2023. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP.

Fifty percent of Italians think their country’s average wages are too low, according to a new survey conducted by research institute Quorum/YouTrend.

The poll, commissioned by Sky TG24, asked respondents for their thoughts on why employers struggle to recruit in Italy, following the Italian government’s announcement on Monday that it will cut the reddito di cittadinanza unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Italy cuts anti-poverty benefits in Labour Day ‘provocation’

Giorgia Meloni’s hard-right government said the move was needed as the benefit was too costly and was discouraging able-bodied people from looking for jobs – a sentiment that 19 percent of respondents appeared to share, saying they thought people would rather access benefits than work.

However half of all respondents said instead that low salaries were the biggest barrier to employment.

Meanwhile, 16 percent said they thought people lacked the professional qualifications needed for the roles advertised, and 12 percent thought that young people didn’t want to do certain kinds of work.

Italy’s unemployment rate stood at eight percent as of February 2023, according to the latest data from Italian national statistics office Istat, against an EU average of just over six percent.

However youth unemployment in Italy is several times higher, at 22.4 percent.

READ ALSO: No minimum wage for Italy as EU reaches living standards deal

One quarter of those surveyed by YouTrend thought that cutting taxes paid on salaries would boost employment, while 22 percent supported offering tax incentives to companies that hire new employees.

The government’s cut to unemployment benefits divided respondents, with 52 percent saying they supported the move, 42 percent against, and six percent undecided.

When asked about their own employment situation, 59 percent – almost two thirds – of respondents said they believed their salary was too low. 28 percent thought they earned a fair wage, and seven percent that their income was higher than it should be.

Overall, 87 percent said they would accept 1,200 euros net as a starting salary.

Workplace safety was another key concern among those surveyed, with 86 percent agreeing with the statement, “workplace safety is a serious problem in Italy”.

According to data from Italian workplace accident insurers INAIL, there were 697,773 workplace accidents in Italy in 2022, and 1,090 work-related deaths, amounting to almost three per day.

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France and Italy face spending rebuke from EU

The European Union was expected to issue warnings to France, Italy and several other governments over excessive spending after new budget rules came into force this year.

France and Italy face spending rebuke from EU

The rebuke comes at a particularly difficult moment for France, where both the far left and far right are piling up spending promises ahead of snap polls triggered by President Emmanuel Macron’s crushing EU election defeat.

This will be the first time Brussels has reprimanded nations since the EU suspended the rules because of the 2020 Covid pandemic and the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as states propped up businesses and households with public money.

The EU spent two years during the suspension overhauling budget rules to make them more workable and give greater leeway for investment in critical areas, like defence.

But two sacred goals remain: a state’s debt must not go higher than 60 percent of national output, with a public deficit – the shortfall between government revenue and spending – of no more than three percent.

The European Commission will publish assessments of the 27 EU states’ budgets and economies on Wednesday, and is expected to point out that some 10 countries including Belgium, France and Italy, have deficits higher than three percent.

The EU’s executive arm has threatened to launch excessive deficit procedures, which kickstart a process forcing a debt-overloaded country to negotiate a plan with Brussels to get back on track.

Such a move would need approval by EU finance ministers in July.

Countries failing to remedy the situation can in theory be hit with fines of 0.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) a year, until action is taken to address the violation.

In practice, though, the commission has never gone as far as levying fines, fearing it could trigger unintended political consequences and hurt a state’s economy.

The EU countries with the highest deficit-to-GDP ratios last year were Italy (7.4 percent), Hungary (6.7 percent), Romania (6.6 percent), France (5.5 percent) and Poland (5.1 percent).

They may face the excessive deficit procedures, alongside Slovakia, Malta and Belgium, which also have deficits above three percent, according to Andreas Eisl, expert at the Jacques Delors Institute.

The picture is complicated for three other countries, Eisl said. Spain and the Czech Republic exceeded the three percent limit in 2023 but should be back in line this year.

Meanwhile, Estonia’s deficit-to-GDP ratio is above three percent – but its debt is around 20 percent of GDP, significantly below the 60 percent limit.

The commission will look at the states’ data in 2023 but “will also take into account the developments expected for 2024 and beyond”, the expert told AFP.

Member states must send their multi-annual spending plans by October for the EU to scrutinise and the commission will then publish its recommendations in November.

Under the new rules, countries with an excessive deficit must reduce it by 0.5 points each year, which would require a massive undertaking at a moment when states need to pour money into the green and digital transition, as well as defence.

Adopted in 1997 ahead of the arrival of the single currency in 1999, the rules known as the Stability and Growth Pact seek to prevent lax budgetary policies, a concern of Germany, by setting the strict goal of balanced accounts.