European mobility of workers after the health emergency

A conference about “European mobility of workers after the health emergency” took place in hybrid form (in person and remotely) from 5 to 7 November 2021 in Levico Terme / Italy, organized by UNAIE (Unione Nazionale delle Associazioni degli Immigrati ed Emigrati) / Associazione Trentini nel Mondo ODV, with the support of EZA and funded by the European Union.

70 representatives of workers’ organisations attended the seminar in person including participants, organizers, speakers and guests. A dozen participants were connected remotely on 3 channels with different languages. 8 speakers out of 21 were also connected online. The participants came from Italy, Albania, Hungary, Spain, Romania, Croatia, Belgium, Germany, Bosnia Herzegovina (as guests), France, Lithuania, Portugal, Bulgaria, Ireland.

The seminar started with greetings from local authorities and other authorities: Mathhias Homey (EZA), Armando Maistri (President of Trentini nel Mondo), Ilaria Del Bianco (UNAIE), On. Mauro Sutto (Chamber Deputy of Italian Republic), Roberto Paccher (Vice President of the Trentino Alto Adige Region), Lorenzo Ossanna (Regional Council Member), Denis Paoli (Councilor of the Trento Province).

The journalist Maurizio Tomasi was the seminar moderator.

The conference was divided into seven sessions:

          1. Introduction of the topic, pandemic and mobility (Friday 5th afternoon)

          2. Beyond the border at the time of COVID (Saturday 6th morning)

          3. Workers and mobility (Saturday 6th morning)

          4. European Sliding Doors Project (Saturday 6th afternoon)

          5. Workers' organizations and COVID (Saturday 6th afternoon)

          6. COVID and social fragility (Sunday 7th morning)

          7. Conclusions (Sunday 7th morning)

First session: Luca Aldrighetti (Trento Employment Agency) opened the seminar illustrating the impact of Covid and restrictions on the world of work, and the employment dynamics in the province of Trento. He highlighted the gap between supplies and demands, which at the moment represents the main cause of unemployment in the area. Massimiliano Mascherini (Head of the Eurofound Research Unit) expanded the same topic at European level, focusing more on psychological factors and the quality of life of workers according to a study conducted by Eurofound. This study showed how the quality of life, during the COVID and the related restrictions, has dramatically worsen, underlining how the non-economic aspects of the problem are being neglected. Antonio Megalizzi Foundation with Caterina Moser, Ilaria Garampi and Andrea Malena discussed about how young people, and in particular generation Z, are used to a Europe without borders and to a very high mobility, and how pandemic affected their life path and perception of the European project. Emiliano Bertoldi (ATAS) talked about the extra-European mobility of refugees and asylum seekers, but also about migrants from third countries for economic reasons and how they have experienced and suffered the limitations of the pandemic, illustrating the main problems and solutions, sometimes only temporary.

Second session: Alessandro Zehentner (ACLI Barcelona) made a presentation about the experience of the Italian, Italo-Venezuelan and Italo-Argentine communities in Barcelona, enumerating the bureaucratic problems, not yet solved, which were added to the limitations to mobility and work, showing consular statistics to present a not well known reality that was excluded from the support programs. Edith Pichler (University of Potsdam), through case studies and statistics, explained the employment situation of immigrants in Germany during the pandemic, observing a deterioration in the quality of life and widespread unemployment especially among highly trained young people usually employed in services considered "non-essential". Kadrija Hodžć (Minister of the Canton of Tuzla, Bosnia and Financial Professor) illustrated the situation in the canton of Tuzla and local policies in relation to European programs, explaining the difficulties and problems to be solved for a peaceful two-way relationship between the EU and minor developing countries. In the last part of his presentation he presented the problem of migrant emergency, too often left to local and inexperienced politics.

Third session: Irina Pop (University of Oradea) and Barbara Beneforti (Archivio Roberto Marini of Pistoia) illustrated the experience lived by the Roma and Sinti communities during the pandemic. Irina Pop spoke by the point of view of social and cultural difficulties created and reinforced by restrictions, in relation of increasing episodes of discrimination in Romania; Barbara Beneforti narrated the wide distinction between Italian citizens and Roma-Sinti in employment and aid projects. There was a discussion in the round table about the impact of the pandemic and restrictions for workers and communities who already lived on the margins in precarious situations, mentioning, for example, the educational problem of distance learning. Emilio Santoro (University of Florence) dealt with the issue of mobility and emigration, as well as refugees, during the pandemic, from a legal point of view, discussing about the legitimacy of certain political choices, about the etymology of specific definitions and legal quibbles in force in Europe that create legislative paradoxes.

Fourth session: this session was dedicated to the project funded by the European Community "Sliding Doors" about the perception of the phenomenon of emigration among European citizens, the aim of the project is to study the spread of preconceptions and discrimination. 12 countries are involved with as many entitie. Frederic Spagnoli (University of Franche-Comté) coordinator and curator of the project, introduced the research and then handed the floor over Deen Gibril and Theresa Ayertey (Mahatma Gandhi Foundation) who explained the situation of migrants and refugees in Hungary and the mission of their Foundation, focused on integration issues and the consequences of Orban's policy. Roberto Niccolai (Archivio Roberto Marini) presented the archive and their efforts to stay on the side of migrants. The foundation has carried out projects and studies on "migrant solidarity" and on the cultural integration of various migrant groups in Italy in the different migratory "waves". Tihomir Knezicek (Association of citizens of Italian origin of Tuzla) talked about the historical immigration of Italians to the canton of Tuzla and how over the years a total integration has been possible thanks to the implemented policies. He analyzed the barriers and obstacles that had to be faced over the years in various areas (social, cultural, employment). He then mentioned some facts about refugees’ situation in Bosnia.

Fifth session: Adriana Ciacaru (ETUC) discussed about digitalization and its impact on work organization and on the work lives of workers, which effects have been underestimated. She focused her dissertation on the impact of the pandemic on the working experience of young people (1 out of 6 lost their job) and how digitalization has hardened some aspects of workers' lives, worsening the quality of life. She distinguished workers between private or public sector and between different types of contract, bringing the point of view of the Union based on the evidence found. Maria Reina Martin (FIDESTRA) spoke about the impact of the pandemic on work in Portugal, which has created social and occupational difficulties depending on contexts, types of work and previous economic situation. She focused on the role of women, who are the most affected by this situation, especially young women with children.  She denounced situations of extreme hardship and vulnerability due to the restrictions, deprivation of rights and enormous economic difficulties, such negative aspects had been overcoming in the past, and they came out again (for example child labour).

Sixth session: Alessandro Martinelli (Caritas Diocesana Trento) highlighted the repercussions of pandemic on Italian families, and in Trentino in particular, reporting about a generalized impoverishment and the worsening of precarious situations in a territory considered "wealthy". Frederic Spagnoli (University of Franche-Comté) discussed about university mobility at the time of Covid and the repercussions both in training courses and in the university and city context. He paid particular attention to extra-European mobility and to current and future strategies that will be implemented if restrictions on mobility will be maintained. Miquel Angel Essomba (University of Barcelona) analysed the concept of social exclusion and dealt with the issue from different points of view, describing the today phenomenon of racism and social discrimination in Spain.

Seventh session: Conclusions were offered by Vittorino Rodaro (UNAIE - Trentini nel Mondo) paying particular attention to the accentuation of social, economic and working inequalities within our societies, especially in those with a tourist vocation. The elderlies are more affected because of the overloaded health system, while young people are more affected from an economic point of view, in particular women and mothers, deprived of fundamental experiential and social elements, up to the denunciation of the return to child labour in many contexts. Migrants, seasonal and cross-border workers are the most affected by the restrictions in mobility. Rodaro also made an explanation about the inclination of the EU about crucial choices over the past two years.

The seminar ended with a speech by Armando Maistri, president of the Trentini nel Mondo Association.

At the end of each speech was given space to public questions, a copy of each report was given to the participants who asked.

At the end of the conference, we can say that the social and economic context of a marked crisis we are experiencing appears clearer, a crisis that is not generalized and universal, but transversal and asymmetrical in certain sectors and in certain social segments. Work, or the lack of it, exposed to restrictions on mobility and strict regulations (although in the name of safety), is certainly the most affected, vulnerable sector. Where generalized problems are seen, problems range from the reduction of wages, to layoffs, to the impossibility of accessing it, unemployment, digitization, the disappearance of entire categories. Issues such as child labour and the conditions of extreme poverty suffered from a large segment of the population, which it was hoped not to see again in Europe, have been resurfaced, and it is surprising that in 2021 they are present. It seems that the future of many has been mortgaged, for many generations, and that, at least in this sector, Europe has somewhat forgotten the principles on which it was founded. We hope, now that we are moving towards the end of this pandemic, that amnesty policies will be adopted in the most affected sectors, and for the weakest groups of workers. To quote Maria Reina Martin, one of the speakers, "The pandemic cannot endanger the principles of equality and freedom, the rights, on which the European community is founded."