Being the Good Worker: What It Means for Albanian Labour Migrants to be Successful in the Italian Host Society

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW2.2.04 (Tower Two)
Erka Caro, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Sonila Danaj, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
This article examines the strategies and attitudes Albanian labour migrants in Italy employ to be accepted and succeed in the host society. We borrow the concept of the ‘good worker’ myth by MacKenzie and Ford (2009), a concept projected and perpetuated by the employer, and see how this myth has been internalised and mirrored by the Albanian migrant workers. For Albanian migrants, working and being a good worker is the perceived scheme of gaining the employer’s trust, keeping the job and being accepted into the society. For them, to be a good worker means to work hard, not complain, work long hours and weekends, not get involved with Trade Unions and in this time of crisis continue to work regardless of whether they are paid or not.

Originally due to large waves of Albanian emigration to Italy the dominant perception was that of a non-working and criminalised migrant, therefore Albanian labour migrants invested in ‘proving’ their worthiness and diligence by being a ‘good worker’. This strategy has given results both short and mid-term in the sense of keeping the job, getting promoted and finding new and better paid jobs. The myth of the ‘good worker’ seems to be reinforced in the present time of crisis as many Albanian migrants find themselves still working while many colleagues have been laid off. Furthermore, their worthiness through their work is reinforced by normative restrictions such as the new immigration laws in Italy that force emigrants to have/maintain a job and certain amount of earnings per year in order to be able to renew their residence permits.

We identify three dimensions that are at the foundations (perceptions) of the industrial citizenship immigrants have (create) and are interlinked to guarantee acceptance into the host society: (a) The social dimension, to create the ‘good worker’ in order to challenge and respond to the stereotype of the immigrant who is stealing their (host society) jobs, as well as the mediated stereotype of the Albanian migrant as being  the criminal or the prostitute; (b) The economic dimension, in the time of crisis when many are laid off, there is a need to prove through being ‘the good worker’ that you are better in order to keep your job. (c)The normative dimension, you need to keep the job and a certain amount of earnings in order to preserve the right to legally reside in the country. Consequently, we find Albanian labour migrants in Italy having relatively poorer employment conditions than native workers. However, rather than complaining about what is missing, under the strong fear of job loss and crisis-inflicted insecurity, they take pride in their work and show gratitude towards their employers.