Volunteers and FAI Spring Days: the problem is much more complex

So much criticism this year against FAI for the use of volunteers in Spring Days. However, FAI is a private entity and does what it wants: the problem is more complex and concerns its visibility, institutions and the consideration of professionals.

Over the past week there has been a lot of criticism written against FAI for the Days of Spring, which take place today and tomorrow all over Italy; and, as in recent years, many of the voices raised came from tour guide associations, bitter about the use of volunteers in a dark time of crisis while guides are at home without jobs.

The issue, however, was poorly set up. Asking FAI to use paid guides instead of volunteers or demanding that it give up Spring Days is like asking a penguin to live in the desert: it would be against nature.FAI pursues its own interests and can carry out the initiatives it wants, because it is neither a public entity nor a charity (most people misinterpret the meaning of “nonprofit foundation.”) Instead, the problem is the state, from its highest office in the Quirinal Palace down to the aldermen of the smallest municipalities. For it is from the institutions that one expects respect for the Constitution and commitment to citizens in need, without discrimination and without unfair competition.

Thereal critical aspects of this situation are three. First, the enormous attention given by the media, especially the RAI, to the FAI. If the FAI would simply carry out its initiatives in the same press silence that the media reserve for tourism and culture professionals, we would be bitter but we could get over it with a smile. Instead, how many hours are RAI channels devoting this week to Spring Days? On how many RAI broadcasts have they talked about it? Every time we turn on the television, we see images of these events, important guests, testimonials, Superintendency officials, politicians, and so much more. It is a constant incensing, thanking, hosannas. Every year visibility is made available to them that no entity, not even the Ministry of Culture or Tourism, has ever had. If on the same channels and in the same broadcasts and time slots, just once a month, the tourism professionals were talked about in this way, it would finally do that enhancement and promotion of the figure of the guide that our country has never done and it would help tourism, the one that makes thousands of families live.

The second critical issue lies in the fact that the institutions put volunteerism ahead of professionals; and that they did so even in the midst of the pandemic, last year and this year.

Una fotografia scattata durante le Giornate FAI di Primavera 2017 presso la Villa Saraceno a Finale di Agugliaro (Vicenza). Ph. Credit
A photograph taken during the 2017 FAI Spring Days at the Villa Saraceno in Finale di Agugliaro (Vicenza). Ph. Credit

There are thousands of volunteer associations in Italy that for many years have been used by administrations due to staff shortages as “stopgaps” or to save money instead of professionals. FAI is only the brightest star in the firmament.

Thefact that thousands of tour guides and their families have been out of work and in dire financial straits for the past 15 months does not rightly affect FAI, which is a private entity, but should be a concern of Parliament and all institutions and administrations. It is from elected politicians that we expect help, which means not only financial contributions, but strategies for restarting. And also being able to understand when it is time to cut back, at least for a year, on the emphasis on volunteerism, being able to understand when it is better to change the tune and, at least for once in 20-30 years, adopt a different strategy, aimed at promoting professionals instead of improvised volunteers who in any case live off another job and do this out of passion.

Just last April 7, the Senate Culture Commission approved a motion by Senator Margherita Corrado against the use of volunteers in the field of cultural heritage, a motion in which she committed the government “to apply the principle that subordinate work must always be paid, in order to guarantee the free and dignified existence of people, as referred to in Article 36 of the Constitution.” Did anyone outside the Commission read it?

How can a state be credible where even the seat of the Presidency of the Republic (the Quirinal Palace) is precluded from tour guides, who are forbidden to practice there even though it is Italian soil, and exclusively reserved for TCI volunteers and university students (again on a volunteer basis)?

This is all wrong. A country where monuments given exclusively to volunteers are increasing every day and where professionals are therefore prevented from entering and working there cannot go on. And where everyone knows that those volunteers are maintained because then at the end of the visit “a tip” is “demanded” (which is not declared to taxes, does not go into the state coffers but also does not go into the subject’s future pension contributions). It means that it is a country in which people prefer to pivot society on legally unpaid forms of work, with less and less revenue for the treasury and fewer and fewer contributions, rather than on legally paid work, both to the state and to INPS and citizens.

There also remains a certain perplexity about the fact that institutions prefer amateurs to work in cultural heritage and tourism, out of passion, as a second job, without the necessary preparation and expertise, without the qualifications or licenses required by law, rather than trained, licensed, up-to-date, experienced, and continuous professionals.

The third problem arises because in front of the FAI, administrations open all the doors they leave closed for professionals. There is a huge disparity of treatment in favor of the FAI. Just to cite one example among many: last year, at the beginning of the summer, when we were trying to recover, as a professional association we asked the City of Rome to help us by facilitating the opening of sites generally closed to the public, which would have attracted residents and tourists and initiated more guided tours, but upon regular payment to the municipality; we only received a series of “but, however, it’s difficult, we’ll see,” in short, they did nothing about it. Two months later the FAI was opened Monte Testaccio, and for free, and the Municipality lost out as well. That’s the way it’s been all over Italy for years.

It is not that FAI accomplishes all those wonderful things because only they are exceptional, but because they are always told yes and all doors are thrown wide open. I am sure that with so many yeses we too would be able to organize beautiful initiatives.

I hope that all those important people who helped facilitate the success of these Spring Days, giving orders from the desks of Parliament, making deals in offices and palaces, with publicity and in so many other ways, while at the same time contributing to worsening the problems of thousands of professionals (women and men) who have been out of work for more than a year, are confident that they have done the best ethically required by their role.

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