October 14, 2021

Europe

ITALY: Draghi’s “Black Friday”?

BY Wolfango Piccoli

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( 5 mins)
  • All workers will be required to show a Covid-19 health pass from 15 October, one of the world’s toughest anti-Covid regimes that has already sparked riots and which may cause chaos in the days ahead.
  • Around 2.2-2.5 million of the country’s 23 million workers are unvaccinated, and risk being denied access to the workplace.
  • Road haulage, ports, and the agricultural sectors could be significantly disrupted.

From 15 October the Green Pass – a certificate showing that people have been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from Covid-19 – will be compulsory for all workers, in both the public and private sectors, in a move affecting around 23 million people. Under the government’s Green Pass system, unvaccinated workers can still go to work but only if they undergo an EUR 15 covid test every 48 hours, at their own expense. Confindustria, the country’s main business lobby, strongly supports the workplace measure. However, various industries could face significant disruptions due to staff shortages as workers hold strikes or simply choose to stay home. Smaller companies have also complained about the lack of information in relation to implementation and enforcement.

On the political front, the government is under increasing pressure from some of the coalition parties – most notably the League and the Five Star Movement – to soften the new regulations and/or cover the costs for the tests (some estimates put it at around EUR 0.5bn per month). However, there is not enough testing capacity to meet the potential demand from unvaccinated workers that could reach around 1 million test per day (the average number of tests carried out over the past month was well below 300,000 per day), raising the prospect of mass absenteeism from work.

There are also some concerns about unrest and violence as Green Pass opponents are planning further protests over the next few days. Protests in Rome last weekend turned violent when right-wing extremists stormed the headquarters of CGIL, the country’s largest trade union, trashing offices inside.

The workplace green pass requirement is one of the toughest in the world, giving workers five days of “unjustified absence,” after which their salary can be suspended, though they cannot be fired. Meanwhile, employers can be fined for not checking if their staff is complying with the rules. The Green pass was initially introduced in June for international travel, then it was extended to indoor restaurant dining and theatres, gyms, and pools. In early September, it was extended further, to long-distance train travel, interregional buses and ferries, domestic flights, and parents entering schools.

More than 85% of Italians over the age of 12 have received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, making them eligible for the so-called Green Pass certificate. But according to various estimates, about 2.3-2.5 million of the country’s 23 million workers are unvaccinated, and risk being denied access to the workplace starting tomorrow. Road haulage (around 90% of the goods in Italy are transported by truck) and the activity in some ports could face significant disruptions due to the high number of workers without a Green Pass – estimated in these sectors at around 30% and 40%, respectively. Sectors that employ a large number of foreign workers could be affected as some vaccines (most notably Russia’s Sputnik that has been widely used in Eastern Europe) are not suitable to secure the Green Pass as they not recognized by the European Medicines Agency. Italy’s agriculture sector could suffer too as it employs around 390,000 foreigners (70% of them are from outside the EU). There are also around 60,000 members of the police force who are not vaccinated.

Other factors could further complicate the situation. For instance, leaving aside 12-19 year-olds, the age groups making up the largest share of unvaccinated people are those aged between 30-39 (18.8%), 40-49 (17.9%) and 20-29 (14.7%); a substantial number of the country’s workforce falls into these three age groups.

There are also significant regional and territorial discrepancies in relation to the percentage of those unvaccinated, testing capacity, and recovery from Covid-19. While it would be necessary to consider the total number of inhabitants and workers in each region, the amount of Green Pass downloads in each region varies greatly, making compliance a greater challenge for certain regions. As of 12 October, the total amount of downloads was around 93 million (with roughly two-third of them via vaccination) but the region with most Green Passes was Lombardy (16.5 million), followed by Lazio (8.6 million), Veneto (8.5 million) and Campania (8.2 million). The two regions with the lowest number of downloads were Sardinia (2.5 million) and Calabria (2.4 million).

The Green Pass obligation at workplaces was mainly intended to boost vaccination rates but the data shows that it has not generated the level of momentum that was expected. The amount of Covid-19 vaccine jabs administered daily – after a slight initial spike in vaccinations – has been declining since the government announced the new measure in mid-September. The government reached its goal of fully vaccinating 80% of the eligible population on 9 October and a new target has not been identified.

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