When reporting on the role of artists and other cultural professions in 2020, mentioning the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is inevitable. The economic crisis following restriction measures and mandates did strike the entire cultural system quite heavily, a system which is per se fragile and having difficulties in recovering with severe consequences for related satellite sectors and the supply chain of creative and cultural companies.
The direct effects of the pandemic can be only approximated by defect. Both economically, financially (if considering that the production-distribution-promotion chain comprises other sectors as well, from tourism to transportation, and training, with their related satellite activities) and socially. Culture is an essential component of the life of the country, in terms of people’s wellbeing, identity values and inclusion. The negative effects are not easily quantifiable; let us mention here the effects of the non-acquisition of critical and cognitive instruments, for example the insufficient contribution – with hidden long-lasting effects – to the learning process of adolescents who have been deprived of theatre, dance and music literacy.
The pandemic events have highlighted the limits and weaknesses of our cultural system, firstly the imbalances in the labour market of reference, with a strong impact on the majority of workers in the cultural industries. They have mostly brought to light the central role of artists and other workers in the entertainment sector, while also focusing on the critical features linked to labour relations, protection and employment, which antedated the onset of the present situation.
Proof of this is the recurring evocation by workers and observers of the European Parliament resolution of 7 June 2007 on the social status of artists whose calls have remained largely unfulfilled in our country.
In the Resolution it is stated that Member States are called upon «to develop or implement a legal and institutional framework for creative artistic activity through the adoption or application of a number of coherent and comprehensive measures in respect of contracts, social security, sickness insurance, direct and indirect taxation and compliance with European rules».
If on the one hand the crisis has emphasized the critical issues of those components of the entertainment sectors, in particular small and medium-sized businesses, operating at the limits of financial sustainability, on the other hand it has triggered a serious unemployment crisis probably with medium and long-term consequences, and linked to a series of contributing causes: from the contraction in consumption to the possible closure (as in other sectors of the economy) of less resilient companies.
As reported in the Io sono cultura 2021 Report carried out by Fondazione Symbola and Unioncamere, 2020 saw a 9.3% decrease in the number of employees (understood as work units) in the cultural and creative sectors, equal to approximately 44,000 units, with a 17.5% decrease in worked hours, although we have to keep in mind that some sectors were penalized more than others, especially the performing arts and cultural heritage, due to the long-term closure of venues providing cultural opportunities.
It should also be added that the consequences of this situation have penalized in the first place the weakest parties in the contractual agreements, in particular the self-employed workers that we know to be by far much more present in this industry than in other economic sectors, and not only in Italy, as also stated in the European Parliament resolution of 17 September 2020 on the cultural recovery of Europe.
In order to cope with the epidemiological emergency, the Central Authority adopted various measures concerning businesses and workers in the cultural and creative sectors, as well as economic actions and social safety nets, including – and for the first time – access to furlough schemes for some groups of workers, as part of the overall measures being taken (in the first place via Prime Minister’s decrees). Emergency funds were created, non-repayable grants were made, and direct interventions were planned by the Ministry of Culture.
The events of recent years have led to renewed attention on the part of political decision-makers towards cultural work, and therefore to the adoption of measures aiming at improving workers’ conditions. Here, we refer in particular to the Decree-law n. 73 of 25 May 2021, combined with the conversion Law n. 106 of 23 July 2021, called: Urgent measures related to the COVID-19 emergency, for businesses, employment, young people, health and local services. Just to mention some of its main innovations, the new legislation introduces more favourable conditions than in the past for the entitlement to sickness benefits for all workers (employees and the self-employed) enrolled in the FPLS – Fondo pensioni per lavoratori dello spettacolo (Pension Fund of Entertainment Workers); it provides for a reorganization of the pension system by establishing new regulations with a different computation of working days; it revises the entitlement regulations for maternity and paternity allowances provided for by the law, extending them to all workers enrolled in the FPLS, whether employees or self-employed workers, who had been previously excluded from these benefits. The compulsory accident insurance was extended to self-employed workers enrolled in the Fund and entitlement to unemployment benefits was allowed.
In the second half of 2021, a legislative process was also started for the approval of new measures concerning the protection of workers in the entertainment business. With regards to the new strategies aimed at increasing cultural employment, mention must be made of the PNRR – Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza (National Recovery and Resilience Plan) prepared by the Draghi Government to access the Next Generation EU (NGEU) funds, approved on 22 June 2021 by the European Commission, and on 13 July 2021 by the EU’s Economic and Finance Council (Ecofin). In its Mission 1: Digitization, Innovation, Competitiveness, Culture and Tourism, the Plan includes a measure pertaining to the Cultural and Creative Industry 4.0, and sets as one of its objectives the increase of employment in the film sector and the growth of operators in the cultural and creative industries by focusing on skills and supporting the capability building of operators on green and digital issues. Likewise, the reform of active employment and vocational training policies, envisaged in Mission 5: Inclusion and Cohesion, deserves particular attention. These are issues that have been at the centre of the debate on cultural employment for many years; to date, effective active labour policies have not been undertaken in favour of cultural and creative sectors; and the vocational training concerning these sectors, although present in large parts of the country, has experienced significant disparities among the Regions in terms of effectiveness (see chapter 5.5). More in general, the development processes linked to PNRR foresee growth for all sectors, although possibly with different percentages and timing, so it may therefore be hoped that in the coming years the cultural sector will experience a positive impact on employment.