The value of flexible contracts; evidence from an italian panel of industrial firms
Since the mid-1980s fixed-term contracts have been used in many European countries to reduce firing costs. As this strategy may have led to segmented labour markets, recent policy interventions have enhanced permanent jobs by cutting their labour costs. Efficient design of these policies requires knowledge of the costs associated with employment protection legislation. In this paper we evaluate these costs by measuring firmsï¿½ willingness to trade fixed-term for open-ended contracts in exchange for a cut in the labour cost of permanent jobs. Our results are based on a panel of Italian firms in the engineering sector whose labour costs were reduced by a tax credit granted to firms hiring workers on open-ended rather than fixed-term contracts. The trade-off is identified by comparing how the composition of recruitment by type of contract changed for firms that received the tax credit and those that did not. Potential distortions due to self-selection into the programme, firm-specific timevarying shocks or mechanical correlation induced by the selection rule into the programme, are accounted for by estimating the spurious effect of the tax credit in the years when it was not in force. Estimation is carried out in both a parametric and non-parametric setting that uses p-score to control for different probabilities of receiving the tax credit. We found that firms value the possibility of hiring one per cent new workers on a fixed-term contract as much as a cut in the labour cost of an open-ended worker in the range of 1.3-2.8 per cent. This result helps to explain recent employment growth in Italy, where the share of fixed-term contracts among new hires grew from 34 to 42 per cent between 1995 and 2003. Using our most conservative results, we evaluate that the labour cost reduction associated with this expansion amounted to anything between 10.4 and 22.4 per cent. Given the elasticity of employment to wages, the advent of flexibility in the Italian labour market can account for a large share, between 37 and 80 per cent, of employment growth in the private sector.
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