Italian freelancer defeat unfair tax reforms

Freelancers in Italy have successfully forced their government to reverse harmful new pension and taxation reforms – and doubled the strength of their organization at the same time.

By launching a coordinated campaign involving social media and small public demonstrations, Italian freelancers convinced prime minister Matteo Renzi to admit he had made one of the biggest mistakes of his career.

His mistake was to introduce a new law on January 1, 2015, which significantly increased pension contributions and income tax for independent workers, who already pay very high rates for access to basic social services.

The Italian association for independent workers, ACTA, responded to these surprise reforms by launching a campaign of “tweet bombing” focused on Renzi’s Twitter account, making the most efficient use of their limited resources. Instead of tweeting and demonstrating over a long period of time, ACTA concentrated their tweets during a two hour period every ten days during lunchtime. This allowed time-stressed freelancers to participate more effectively.

The result was a flood of tweets which created a trending topic and captured the attention of the mainstream media. Renzi, a prolific tweeter, was forced to acknowledge that his reforms had harmed independent workers, and on February 17 the Italian parliament passed two amendments which reversed the pension increase and moderated the tax reform.

ACTA, which was founded in 2004 and has several thousand members, advocates to improve the condition of freelancers. But ACTA’s membership numbers soared during the 40 days of the tweet bombing campaign. More than twice as many new members signed up during this period as had registered during the entire previous year.

ACTA representative Francesca Pesce said the campaign made the government “realized that it cannot continue to remember that freelancers exist only when it needs to find some way to fund new initiatives increasing their taxes, and then immediately forgets about them when talking about rights and welfare. It also confirmed to freelancers that united they can go far.”

The quashed reforms would have increased freelancers’ pension contributions from 27.72 per cent to 30.72 per cent of their income. It would have also abolished a special simple tax regime for young and low-income freelancers – those earning under 30,000 EUR – who previously paid 5 per cent income tax. Instead, all freelancers earning below 15,000 EUR annually would pay 15% income tax, and those earning over 15,000 EUR would pay significantly more.

ACTA has been arguing to reduce freelancers’ pension contributions to 24%. As a comparison, shopkeepers and handworkers – groups with powerful lobbies and connections with political parties – pay only 17% of their wages in pension contributions. The difference between these traditional self-employed workers and newer creative and knowledge workers comes down to a lack of understanding, visibility and political strength. ACTA’s efforts show that new types of freelancers are able to achieve political gains by uniting and campaigning creatively.