From Friday, all workers in Italy will be required to show a health card for COVID-19 as the country enforces one of the world’s strongest anti-coronavirus regulations, which has already sparked riots and which many fear will cause “chaos”.
More than 85% of Italians over the age of 12 have received at least one injection of the COVID-19 vaccine, making them eligible for a so-called Green Pass.
But according to various estimates, about 2.5 million workers, out of 23 million in total, are not immune, and risk being denied access to the workplace as of October 15.
“You have no idea what chaos is going to happen to businesses,” Luca Zaia, the president of the northern industrial region of the Veneto, said recently.
Unvaccinated workers can still get a Green Pass with a coronavirus test or a recovery certificate if they contracted the virus within the past six months.
But if they choose the tests, they have to take them at their own expense, and return them every 48 hours.
Zaya suggested that there was not enough testing capacity to meet potential demand, which increased the potential for mass absenteeism.
“The business people I spoke to are very concerned,” he said.
Green passes are already required for teachers and school personnel, as well as for other activities such as eating indoors at bars and restaurants, or going to the movies, museums and soccer games.
But they are unpopular, at least among a significant minority of Italians – as evidenced by last Saturday’s riots in Rome, where an anti-passage rally turned into an attack on a union building led by the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party.
Anyone caught in the workplace without a Green Pass risks fines of between 600 and 1,500 euros ($693 to $1,734), and those who don’t show up for work because they don’t face a single suspension or get paid – but they can’t be fired.
Meanwhile, employers can be fined 400 to 1,000 euros for not checking whether their employees are abiding by the rules.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi chose compulsory COVID-19 permits last month in a bid to prevent further lockdowns and support Italy’s recovery from a record 8.9% recession last year.
The measure, which follows a similar initiative introduced in Greece last month, was also aimed at increasing vaccination rates.
Business lobby consortium Confindustria has been among the strongest supporters of Green Pass in Italy, one of the European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus with more than 130,000 deaths.
Vice President Maurizio Stirpe told Corriere della Sera newspaper that the focus is on “creating workplaces that are as safe as possible…because it is the only way to ensure public health and economic recovery”.
On the other hand, the trade unions were skeptical. They initially demanded a universal rule compelling all Italians to be challenged, arguing that this option would have avoided the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated workers.
But the government has not gone that far, in part because a member of Draghi’s left-right coalition government, Matteo Salvini’s National League, opposed compulsory vaccinations.
Once the government ignored the union’s advice, they succeeded in ordering that the unvaccinated workers not be fired, but only suspended. But they were also unable to get free COVID-19 tests for workers, which are paid by the state or employers.
“Personally, I will be examined,” Stefano, one of the people who protested in Rome last week, told AFP. But he complained that it was “absurd” to have to pay to continue doing his job.
So far, only port workers in Trieste have been able to win the privilege of free COVID-19 tests, after threatening to ban all activity in their port, a major hub in the Northeast, from October 15.
Meanwhile, there are fears that violence could erupt again next Saturday, when the No Traffic movement plans more protests and unions prepare for a large anti-fascist rally in Rome.