In 2022, the solo self-employment rate in Italy was approximately 14.3% of the working population (15-74), largely above the European Union average (9.6%). Solo self-employed workers accounted for about 11.1% and 16.6% of the working population of women and men respectively, and they were almost 69.9% of the total self-employed. In the period 2007-2022, there was a decline in the number of the self-employed without employees of approximately -16.2%. Such decline was mainly due to the loss of self-employed workers among men, young and middle-age workers, and low-skilled jobs. Over the same period, the volume of self-employed without employees increased significantly among late-career and migrant workers, as well as among high-skilled professionals. Estimates show that almost 6.4% of solo-self-employed can be classified as economically dependent self-employed (i.e. solo self-employed workers who work mainly for one client and do not decide their working hours), a share slightly above the European average (5.0%).

In terms of legal status, art. 2222 of the Civil Code indirectly states a definition of self-employed as a person who is under an obligation to perform a service or deliver a piece of work for a fee, mainly by means of their labour and in the absence of subordination vis-à-vis the principal. For this reason, in the Italian legal framework, it has always been crucial to define self-employment as a status where the characteristics of subordination are missed. Over time, legislators decided to extend some or the entire protection previously reserved to employees to some self-employed workers, whose way of working partially resembles subordination. At first, this happened by means of art. 409 c.p.c. n. 3, recently amended by art. 15 law 81/2017, which contains a definition of ‘coordinate and continuative service.’ This is the case of self-employed workers who perform a continuative service, mainly in person, for a client with whom they have to coordinate in order to perform their activities. Moreover, art. 2 decree 81/2015 (amended soon after by law 128/2019) provides that labour law regulations apply not only to subordinate employment, but also to those collaborators who perform activities organised by the employer on a continuous and predominantly personal basis. An amendment also added that those dispositions apply when platforms are in use to issue modality of work execution.

In Italy, the number of organisations representing solo self-employed workers has increased significantly in the last fifteen years. The debate on working and social conditions of the solo self-employed has progressively involved quasi-unions, professional organisations and especially second-level organisations, as well as trade unions, grassroots groups and cooperatives. During the first fieldwork, activities carried out by ACTA (Associazione Consulenti del Terziario Avanzato), the first national freelancer association, were followed. Among trade unions, the three confederal unions have been involved – CGIL, CISL and UIL – focusing on the most active branches and projects aimed at representing the solo self-employed, such as Apiqa and the Council of professions within the CGIL, vIVAce! within the CISL, and Networkers within the UIL. Among employer organisations, both CoLAP (Coordinamento Libere Associazioni Professionali), Confassociazioni, and CNA Professioni, three of the main national umbrella organisations, were included in the study. With regard to grassroots groups, we considered Deliverance Milano and CLAP (Camere del Lavoro Autonomo e Precario), the former engaged in the representation of riders working through digital platforms, the latter focused on precarious and self-employed workers in public and private sectors. Finally, as far as cooperatives are concerned, Doc Servizi and were investigated, both being engaged in the cultural and creative sector.

In the second fieldwork, we conducted specific case studies by following the activities of the grassroots group Deliverance Milano and of the freelance association RedActa, the branch of ACTA focused on solo self-employed workers in publishing sector. In parallel, we continued collecting data on NIDIL-CGIL, the union branch for self-employed and atypical workers.

While conducting the first fieldwork in Italy, the researcher was hosted in Rome at Fondazione Di Vittorio. The second fieldwork was conducted mainly in Milan, where the Host Institution of the SHARE project was located.