Migrants, Complementary Currency, Integration: ideas from an Italian Case

by Giovanni Calvellini

The migration phenomenon to the Old Continent has become the main theme upon which, in the various Member States and by extension in the EU institutions, the opposite political fronts are confronting each other. Despite the relevance of the issue, the approach to the same continues to be partial. Indeed, the attention of both national and European law makers is still mainly focused on the arrangement and the management of the reception of the applicants for international protection, as well as on the goals (identified as priority) of halting the migration flows at origin and redistributing the incomers between all the Member States; instead, only minimal attempts have been made to conceive, finance and implement suitable models of integration. This circumstance, and not – as has been too frequently said – the migration phenomenon in itself, has been causing the increase in the perception of insecurity from European citizens; the above-mentioned insecurity should be understood – rather than in the traditional meaning of the term, which concerns the danger for personal or good safety – in its “urban” dimension, namely as lack of effectiveness in guaranteeing a good quality of life and a full enjoyment of urban areas.

For these reasons, it is more urgent than ever to devote attention to the need to encourage concrete initiatives aimed to enhance, at local level, social cohesion and the inclusion of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. These are goals whose pursuit evidently requires that these people regain individual independence and so an economic emancipation that provides liberation from the state of need.

In the light of this, the efforts of all those who play a part in the integration process should be addressed primarily to job insertion of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. However, due to the above-mentioned law makers’ lack of interest in the issues connected to the migrants’ inclusion, the development of action plans in that sense is left to the initiative of the most virtuous local institutions.

The attempt of integration through economic emancipation is the basis of a project recently presented and approved in the Italian municipality of San Martino in Rio, Emilia Romagna.

Briefly, the project provides the activation of internships (to be carried out in the municipality itself) with some asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, to whom is acknowledged an allowance in complementary currency (convertible in Euros ninety days after its issue) which can be spent only to purchase goods and services sold by the local retailers participating in the initiative.

After receiving the vouchers, the trainee may decide, in abstract, to hold them waiting for conversion. However, in relation to this hypothesis, two observations are feasible: firstly, due to the relatively brief residence times in a given area of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, as well as the state of need they find themselves in, it can be expected that they will be encouraged to spend their vouchers before the date of maturity; secondly, being the complementary currency a means of paying less fungible compared to the legal tender, the most rational decision should be to use it earlier than the holding of Euros.

Moreover, the latter consideration is also worth for the retailer who receives in complementary currency the payment for his goods and services, as well as for the subsequent holders of the vouchers themselves. Thus, before the conversion, the complementary currency could be used, for example, to settle the suppliers’ invoices, to pay liberality to the employees, or to purchase goods or services of personal interest.

The idea that inspires the project is to satisfy three different needs: to promote the integration of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection hosted in the municipality; to support the local economy by injecting a currency spendable only in the retail of the municipality itself; public interest activities to be performed, providing a support to the local administration personnel.

So, with regard to the issues taken into consideration in this article, the project aspires to integrate foreigners by encouraging them to dedicate themselves to public interest activities, training them for a specific profession, facilitating their economic independence, and including them in the local socio-economic fabric (as already mentioned, the vouchers given to the trainees as allowance are spendable only in the municipality). Therefore, the use of the complementary currency to pay the training allowance to the asylum seekers and the beneficiaries of international protection is surely able to produce positive externalities in the integration process: the person has the advantage of having an income which puts her or him near economic emancipation, but, at the same time, the indigenous community’s perception of the migrant as a competitor in the labour market is attenuated in a significant manner. Moreover, the incomer could be seen as a growth and development factor of the local economy (because of the facilitation in money flow that derives from his presence in the area).

It is true that the carrying out of such a project presupposes the existence of available funds and that not every local administration is provided of these. However, it exists in Italy a system of regional public subsidies in the form of partial refunds of the training allowance; moreover, it also would be possible – due to the certain interest in the project of many social and economic local participants – to launch initiatives of local crowd-funding to find the necessary financial resources (precisely as intended in San Martino in Rio after the first experimental phase).

However, the indisputable positive effects in terms of integration should not blind us to the necessity for a careful analysis of this project’s feasibility from a labour law point of view.

In this regard, the institution of training does not seem to present any significant problems, on the understanding that it does not concern a work activity but a path of “learning on the job”.

Even though Italian law recognizes the trainee’s right to collect an allowance quantified in Euros, the fact that the vouchers are convertible at a predetermined date of maturity rules out the possibility of a non-performance of the duty to pay the allowance. Indeed, even if the delivery of the complementary currency is not considered enough to fulfil the obligation, the compliance will take place, at the very latest, when the vouchers become convertible and the trainee can demand the Euro equivalent.

The argument concerning the compatibility of complementary currency with the employee’s wage is very different and more articulate. It has been said that the retailer, after receiving payment in vouchers for his goods and services, could decide, hypothetically, to use them to pay his employees’ salary, in whole or in part. However, the system that judges have adopted since the ‘50s to give effect to the right to a fair remuneration pursuant to Article 36 of Italian Constitution hinders the application of complementary currency for the payment of the so-called “constitutional minimum”, namely – simplifying the terms of the issue – the salary tariffs dictated by the national collective agreement of the sector in which the employer operates.

But, that said, there is nothing to prevent that additional salary items, whose sources are the collective agreement at a company level, the individual contract, or the unilateral will of the employer (as, for example and respectively, production bonuses, fixed monthly extra-pays, or some kind of liberalities to the employees), are paid in vouchers, on condition that it is established by the same sources. Thus, it opens up another way of circulation for complementary currency, additional to those which pass through the B2B and B2C relationships in the determined area.

Therefore, the case of San Martino in Rio proves that the convinced promotion of solidarity value, on which the European and national legal systems are based, does not necessarily clash with the resident people’s interests and that everyone would gain by carrying out good policies of social cohesion and inclusion.

Despite a legal framework that ignores the need to encourage integration, it is still possible to elaborate projects which, on the one hand, help migrants to avoid the dramatic alternative between a state of inactivity and undeclared employment, and, on the other hand, attenuate urban insecurity perception in European citizens. With specific reference to the use of a complementary currency, it has been remarked that positive effects (in terms of migrants’ integration and support to local economy) can derive from it. The investigation on the admissibility in the Italian legal system of that particular means of payment with regard to the training allowance or to a part of the employee’s remuneration reveals – as seen – the necessity to adopt specific cautions, but certainly not an absolute impracticability, even de iure condito. So, starting from this observation, it is far from being disregarded the idea that, in a near future, more and more often the complementary currency will be used as an instrument around which the political institutions at each level will elaborate action plans in support of the inclusion, not only of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, but, more generally, of people confined to the outer edge of a certain social context.


Giovanni Calvellini, born in 1988, studied Law at the University of Siena, where he graduated in 2013. He was doctoral researcher in Legal Studies at the same University and he obtained his Ph.D. in 2018 with a thesis on working time conditions.

He is author of many publications and member of the Board of Editors of the Research Centre “Diritti & Lavoro” and of “Rgl News: Notiziario della Rivista giuridica del lavoro”. He has participated in seminars and conferences as speaker on various specific labour law issues.




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