It is no exaggeration to say that Carlo Cani, a 60-year-old coal miner from the Italian island of Sardinia, never did an honest day’s work in his life. In fact, the miner, who retired on a state pension in 2006, admitted that he has spent 35 years perfecting the art of not going to work.
Last weekend, he confessed to a local newspaper in Sardinia the relative ease with which he legally bilked his company and the Italian government for his salary, benefits, and, now, a generous state pension.
When Cani wasn’t faking illnesses ranging from acute hemorrhoids to amnesia—both justifiable hazards of the job deep inside a coal mine—he pretended to be drunk, admitting, in fact, that sometimes he was.
“I invented everything—amnesia, pain, hemorrhoids,” he told La Stampa. “I staggered as if I was drunk, except that, thinking about it, sometimes I was drunk. I bashed my thumb against a wall and obviously a miner can’t work with a swollen thumb.”
He also admitted to a long list of excuses for not going deep into the mine, including rubbing coal dust into his eyes to give the impression he had either contagious conjunctivitis or other infections. “I just didn’t like the work,” he said. “Being a miner was not the job for me.”
Cani, who says his father was “a real miner,” was able to pull off his benefits fraud with the help of complicit doctors who signed medical-leave slips that allowed him to take days and weeks off with pay.
When Carbosulcis, the mine he worked for, laid off workers with reduced pay, he volunteered immediately, which meant he kept a partial salary and benefits—and more importantly his pension—for nearly five years without lifting a finger.
When Cani wasn’t avoiding work at the mine, he says he stayed at home playing jazz and thinking up other schemes to avoid work. He played various jazz festivals under the performance name Charlie Dogs, a lose translation of his real name Carlo Cani, according to the local Sardinian newspaper La Nuova Sardegna, which broke the story.
“I reached the pensionable age without hardly ever working. I hated being underground,” he told La Nuova Sardegna. “Right from the start, I had no affinity for coal.”
The revelations may sound absurd to the rest of the world, but in Italy faking sick leave is a national pastime. It is not uncommon for private doctors in Italy to take kickbacks to sign medical-leave forms that allow workers up to two weeks or more at time off work. Italy’s highly unionized labor laws are generous when it comes to workers’ rights, and the system has been under scrutiny for years, though labor reform remains one of the most difficult endeavors for any recent Italian government to enact.
The average Italian worker is “sick” 17 days a year, according to a recent study conducted by Italy’s main workers union. The most common day for workers to call in sick is Monday, the study found.
Italy’s current government under Matteo Renzi has only been able to pass a law that allows the government to work on a labor-reform law and a modified Jobs Act that may pave the way to cut the number of short-term contracts and modify the labor laws that protect fraudsters like Cani.
Surprising still is the fact that despite Cani’s admission that he worked hard not working hard, there is likely little that can be done to strip him of his state pension because everything he did was well within the laws that are in place.
He never missed a day of work without calling in sick, and he never had an extended illness without the proper medical certificate. “I have practically never worked,” he said. “But I do respect those who do.”