Interview with Confprofessioni President Gaetano Stella: “the pandemic has accelerated the process of change, prompting us to rethink new patterns of life and work”. Our President discusses Italian professionals vs COVID-19 measures and calls for an active involvement of our sector in projects aiming at boosting our economy.

Today we are very pleased to share with you, in the framework of our series of interviews of Presidents of CEPLIS’ organisation members, a discussion with our own President and President of Confprofessioni, Mr. Gaetano Stella, on the role of paramount importance played by his organization during the lockdown and the struggles of our colleagues in the post-confinement reality.

Confprofessioni “has been in fact the voice of the professionals when meeting with the Government”. Working hand-in-hand with officials, they “have been involved in the management of the crisis by sharing decisions and political guidelines” in order to mitigate the health, economic and social turmoil in Italy.

In the pages that follow, President Stella highlights among other points, that this crisis has “already profoundly changed many aspects in the field of society”, perhaps irreversibly pushed by the massive use of digital technologies.

Gaetano Stella, President of CEPLIS & Confprofessioni

To what extent has this disrupted the functioning of your association?

We did not register any particular disruptions; indeed, on the one hand, we witnessed an exponential growth of institutional activity; on the other hand, we intervened to directly help professional firms. In this context, with the contribution of the bilateral entities provided for in the National Collective Labour Agreement for professional firms, we have earmarked important economic resources through an extraordinary intervention plan, to allow the firms to carry on their activities during the lockdown (teleworking, liquidity measures for professionals, e-learning) and at the same time to ensure the health and wages of the workers (income support, leave, Covid-19 per diem and medical video consultation).

Did this bring your association closer to public authorities as an interlocutor?

Certainly. Dialogue and confrontation with political institutions, both at national and regional level, has significantly intensified during the emergency. Right from the start of the pandemic, the Government has involved us in the management of the crisis by sharing decisions and political guidelines. These guidelines referred to both measures to contain the spread of the infection and interventions to support the economy. Indeed, our organisation signed – together with the other social partners – with the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Ministries of Health, Labour and Economic Development, the Protocol on measures to combat Covid-19 to safely resume economic activities. Pursuant to the Protocol, we then codified specific “guidelines” for the reopening of professional firms. At the regional level, each Confprofessioni regional delegation signed a regional protocol to let firms’ employees have access to social security schemes.

Have your members been able to use your association as a relay of information and to send their feedback to the authorities?

During the pandemic, Confprofessioni has been the voice of the professionals when meeting with the Government. We intervened in support of the professionals of the health and economic areas, who continued to operate throughout the lockdown phase, with great social responsibility. But we also draw the attention of the legislator to the requests of the professions that had to stop their activities, in particular the technical and legal areas. We supported and obtained the launch of a non-repayable grant, albeit of a modest amount.

Do you think that this difficult period had an impact on the relationships between the liberal professions and their clients and patients, in particular as regards trust in the professionals and the appreciation of their role within the society? We are all aware for example that the medical professions have benefited from a lot of gratefulness for their good work. What about other professions, such as for example notaries and lawyers who have often been called to receive testaments or to defend persons abused under confinement?

In general, confinement reduced professional relationships with clients to a minimum: many businesses have been forced to close, but many others – I am thinking in particular of accountants and labour consultants – continued to work allowing companies to benefit from economic support measures launched by the Government. Without their contribution, a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises would not have been able to access, for example, to the social security contributions or the liquidity made available by government decrees. Today, professionals are credited with having been able to mitigate the most adverse effects of the crisis. Without their support, the consequences for enterprises would have been dire. The health professions deserve special mention: during the lockdown they were at the forefront to guarantee assistance to their patients, reinforcing a relationship of trust with patients that continues to this day.

Do you think that the current situation will impact on the financial health of liberal professionals’ SMS?

We estimated that thousands of self-employed workers in Italy are in danger of closing down due to the economic crisis caused by Covid-19. The impact was devastating, especially on smaller and less organised enterprises. And, moreover, the measures implemented by the Government have not been sufficient to compensate for the losses incurred during the lockdown.

Were the liberal professions of your country and their SMS taken into consideration when your government adopted measures to balance the financial damage?

During the pandemic, the Italian Government prepared an extraordinary plan to support the economy, including important measures addressed to businesses. However, we believe that the resources allocated have not been divided equally among the different production sectors of the country. On several occasions, our organisation had to intervene to report obvious regulatory shortcomings that penalised liberal professionals, among the most seriously hit by the crisis.

Was the specificity of the Liberal Professions taken into account when your government announced measures for the relaunching of the general economy of your country?

During the lockdown, we had several meetings with the Government and the relevant Ministers on the measures to adopt in response to the emergency. Our organisation contributed to the document of the experts appointed by the Government to manage the post-emergency phase, developing a series of proposals which were later implemented by the Government itself. Last June the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, convened the “Estates General” talks in Rome to share the economic recovery plan with the social partners. And the lines of action identified by the Government also involve the skills and activities of liberal professionals, who will have to play a central role in the definition and implementation of projects to boost our economy.

Now that the confinement is over, how do you see our sector in general in your country in the future: a return to normal life or deeply marked by new habits?

The lockdown is over, but in Italy as throughout Europe the spread of the infection increased ageing worryingly. We will have to live with the virus for several more months, at least until the vaccine is found. However, many aspects in the field of work and society have already profoundly changed, perhaps irreversibly, pushed by the massive use of digital technologies: smart working, for example, is now a reality in the organisation of work. From a certain point of view, the pandemic has accelerated the process of change, prompting us to rethink new patterns of life and work characterised by a more sustainable economic and social development.