“Italy offers a competitive wage level (that grows less than in the rest of the EU) and a highly skilled workforce,” declares the brochure from the Italian Trade Agency (ITA), the governmental organization in charge of the international development of the Italian economy.
It goes on to state that: “An engineer in Italy earns an average annual salary of 38,500€, while in other European countries the same profile earns on average over 48,500€ per year.”
The promotional material is complete with charts, illustrating that wages in Italy grew significantly less than in other EU countries in recent years, and that the maximum wage for engineers with at least five years' experience is far lower than in Germany, France and the UK.
The leaflet can be downloaded from the Invest in Italy website and copies were also handed out recently in Milan, while Renzi gave a speech about attracting foreign investment.
Eleonora Voltolina, founder of the Repubblica degli Stagisti, a website and blog supporting interns in Italy, said the government was wrong to “delight in the fact that our salaries are extremely low, even for people with a high level of education”.
Speaking to Il Fatto Quotidiano, Voltolina said: “It's fine to mention competitive advantages in front of an audience of foreigners, but a governnment can do this without magnifying the low cost of our brains. You can't include the fact that a graduate costs a quarter less than in other European countries as a competitive advantage.”
In response to the criticism, the ITA said: “The relationship between quality and cost of personnel is a matter which is considered very relevant to the decision of which country to invest in, and for this reason, the majority of international guides include it.”
In September, a 'Fertility Day' campaign by Italy's Ministry of Health was criticized as sexist, and neglecting to address issues such as economic hardship which may affect people's choice to have children.
The biggest outcry was over an image of a fraught-looking young woman touching her stomach with one hand and holding an egg-timer in the other, with the sand running away.
The government then scrapped the campaign and came up with a second set of promotional material – which was then called “racist” for using white people to illustrate 'good habits' and people of diverse ethnicities demonstrating 'bad habits'.