Francesco Bagnardi

Informal employment and the multiplication of regulatory spaces in the Italian construction sector

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Drawing on labour process theory and the regulatory space approach, this paper reframes employment informalization as a tool of labour control used by firms to secure a supply of a cheap and flexible workforce and cope with sectoral pressures. The study shows that a plethora of hybrid, formal and informal regulatory spaces and actors are strategically mobilized by firms to discipline, recruit, and retain workers and to stabilize informalized employment relations. Using the Italian construction sector as a critical case study and drawing on semi-structured interviews with workers, unionists, and other stakeholders, the paper shows that firms reproduce and stabilize informal practices by strategically mobilizing differentiated regulatory actors and generating multiple regulatory spaces. Three mechanisms – handshake agreements, labour mobility arrangements, and informal subcontracting networks and recruitment channels – are identified as recurrently adopted by firms to stabilize informal employment. The paper shows how such mechanisms displace formal regulatory actors and move employment away from laws and collective contracts towards informal norms and unfettered power relations.


  • informalization
  • Labour Process Theory
  • regulatory spaces
  • construction
  • Italy


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