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Labour minister says govt must act on joblessness

Action promised as UN agency warns an entire generation at risk

24 March, 18:10
Labour minister says govt must act on joblessness

(By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, March 24 - Premier Matteo Renzi's government intends to consult interested parties before labour market reforms, but will ultimately do whatever is necessary to deal with serious unemployment, Labour Minister Giuliano Poletti said Monday. He spoke as new statistics showed that worldwide, at least 74.5 million people under 25 are jobless, demonstrating that Italy's high rate of youth unemployment is part of a global phenomenon that the United Nation warned threatens an entire generation. As labour minister, Poletti said his role will involve discussions with "social partners" including union leaders - but the government will have final say.

"It is our intention to meet and discuss, but in the end the government will decide," what course of action to take, Poletti said in an interview with Rai radio.

"If anyone thinks to try to overturn what we have done, we will oppose that with all our might," he added.

One day earlier, Renzi dismissed criticisms from senior union officials, including Susanna Camusso, general-secretary of the CGIL union, as well as from Giorgio Squinzi, the head of leading business organization Confindustria, as those of an "odd couple". Unions have condemned a decree extending the limit for temporary contracts from one year to three years, described as a central part of Renzi's so-called Jobs Act to simplify labour regulations and reduce the current plethora of different contracts and benefits available.

Poletti also reiterated the government's plan to introduce a single form of labour contract that could be applied across the country, which Camusso has said her union is willing to discuss - but only if the decree is scrapped. "This measure introduces greater flexibility and job insecurity, as a person can be hired and fired for three years without any reason or cause," Camusso said late last week. "We are worried and we are against this," added the labour leader, who also complained that relations with Renzi, who has clashed several times with the unions since being sworn in as premier last month, were "non-existent".

However, Camusso has praised some elements of the large program of measures Renzi announced earlier this month to revive the economy, including 10 billion euros in tax cuts targeting low earners, as well as social spending focused on investments in schools. Renzi's goal has been to stimulate economic growth as Italy struggles to emerge from its longest postwar recession.

Officially, the recession ended late last year, but the recovery has been very weak and unemployment is at a record level of 12.9%, with more than four in 10 under-25s out of work.

All parties must be willing to accept changes at a difficult time for Italy and no one can get everything they ask for, said Poletti.

As if to bolster Italian concerns about youth joblessness, the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) told a youth employment seminar at Italy's Lower House Monday that at least 74.5 million people under 25 around the world were out of work in 2013, one million more than in the previous year In 2011, the number of so-called European NEETS (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) aged 15-24 had reached 7.5 million, in addition to 6.5 million NEETS aged 25-29, according to Eurostat statistics bureau.

"Barring rapid and structured intervention, an entire generation is at risk", according to the ILO.

The seminar, arranged by the ILO, the European Parliament Youth Intergroup and the Italian Parliament Youth Intergroup, is aimed at establishing a Youth Guarantee program in Italy. The program was endorsed by EU countries in April 2013. EU member States are currently developing national Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans with the help of the European Commission.

The idea is to ensure that all people under 25 - whether registered with employment services or not - get access to a quality, concrete job, internship or continued education offer within four months of leaving formal education or losing a job. "The Youth Guarantee program is the first bridge to the future for recent graduates and NEETS, who have dropped off the radar", said Poletti.

"Staying home without taking action is just not an option," he added. "We must give everyone an opportunity".

The Youth Guarantee program should cost each country about 0.5% to about 1.5% of national GDP, according to the ILO.

"The long-term costs of youth unemployment far outweigh those of investing in the program," said ILO Employment Policies Director Azita Berar Awad.

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