New collective agreement signed for ministry employees
In February 2003, a new collective agreement for the 280,000 employees of Italian ministries was signed, concluding negotiations which had lasted for 14 months. The deal complies with a framework agreement on public sector bargaining reached in February 2002 in terms of its pay provisions. It also contains innovative provisions on preventing and combating sexual harassment and bullying at the workplace.
On 28 February 2003, after 14 months of frequently interrupted negotiations, agreement was reached on renewal of the collective agreement (IT0012169N) covering the 282,000 employees of Italy's various government ministries. The provisions on pay and other economic matters cover the two-year period 2002-3, while the other, 'normative' provisions cover the four-year period 2002-5. The agreement was signed by the Agency for the representation of public administrations in collective bargaining (Agenzia per la rappresentanza negoziale delle pubbliche amministrazioni, Aran) and the three main sectoral trade unions - the Federation of Public Sector Workers (Federazione lavoratori della funzione pubblica, Fp), affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione generale italiana del lavoro, Cgil), the Federation of Public and Service Workers (Federazione lavoratori pubblici e dei servizi, Fps-Cisl), affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione italiana sindacati lavoratori, Cisl), and the Union of Italian Public Administration Workers (Unione italiana lavoratori pubblica amministrazione, Uilpa), affiliated to the Union of Italian Workers (Unione italiana del lavoro, Uil) - as well as by two independent unions - the National Federation of State and Research Institute Workers (Federazione nazionale statali ed enti di ricerca, Fns), affiliated to the General Workers’ Union (Unione generale del lavoro, Ugl), and the Union of National Autonomous Unions (Unione nazionale sindacati autonomi, Unsa), affiliated to the Confederation of Autonomous Workers’ Unions (Confederazione sindacati autonomi lavoratori, Confsal).
Contents of the agreement
The agreement provides for an average monthly pay increase of EUR 106 - with 13 pay months a year - in accordance with the framework agreement for bargaining in the public sector signed in February 2002 (IT0203102N). The increases are distributed between direct wage rises (in two instalments) and the upwards adjustment of various allowances. Moreover, part of the pay increase (around 10%) will be distributed by decentralised bargaining.
A significant feature of the agreement is the establishment of a joint Aran-trade union committee to assess the implementation of the job classification system which was introduced in 1999, whose value has been confirmed by the new deal, and to propose possible modifications. The existing job classification system is meant to recognise the value of human resources and professional skills, within a framework that assigns an important role to continuing training, as a instrument to acquire know-how, upgrade competencies and support the development of a new management culture.
Moreover, the agreement provides for a mandatory conciliation procedure for all individual disputes and envisages the possibility of resolving disputes through arbitration. Among other matters, the agreement also introduces a code of conduct for public administration employees, as well as significant modifications of disciplinary rules.
Sexual harassment and bullying
The most innovative parts of the agreement are its sections on sexual harassment and bullying (or 'mobbing'). As regards action against sexual harassment, the agreement establishes a reference code of conduct to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, as envisaged by the European Commission’s Recommendation on the matter issued on 27 November 1991 (92/131/CEE). A series of guidelines are laid down for the various administrations, each of which will have to draw up its own code of conduct. The reference code of conduct set out in the new agreement establishes the position of 'personal counsellor' (consigliere/consigliera di fiducia), a person who is responsible for collecting complaints and undertaking inquiries. According to the agreement, sexual harassment is 'every undesired act or form of behaviour, also verbal, with a sexual connotation that causes offence to the dignity and freedom of the person to whom it is directed or which is liable to lead to reprisals or a climate of intimidation in his or her regard'.
The code declares harassment to be unacceptable and establishes the right to complain, which may be exercised by initiating an informal procedure through the personal counsellor, with complete confidentiality guaranteed for all those concerned. This in-house counsellor is selected and trained by the ministry concerned. On request by the worker subject to harassment, the personal counsellor may seek to deal with the situation by informing the person under investigation that his or her behaviour is unacceptable. If the harassment does not stop, or if the worker decides not to call in the counsellor, a formal complaint is lodged with the head of the office concerned, who forwards it to the disciplinary section. If the complaint is substantiated, the administration of the ministry takes the steps necessary to halt the harassment and to restore working conditions in which the 'inviolability of the person' is fully guaranteed. The person who has suffered harassment may ask to remain in his or her job position or to be transferred in another location which would not cause him or her distress.
The fight against sexual harassment will be accompanied by information campaigns on the codes of conduct and other issues, and also by awareness-raising initiatives. The prevention and suppression of sexual harassment will also be addressed by training courses. Each administration will have to monitor the application of its code of conduct.
Another innovation concerning workplace behaviour is the creation within each administration of joint committees charged with investigating the problem of bullying, and with proposing positive actions and interventions for the prevention and suppression of such behaviour in workplaces. This initiative has been taken to collect data on bullying and find solutions to the problems raised by this kind of behaviour, which seems to be occurring more and more frequently within public administrations. The agreement defines bullying/mobbing as 'any form of moral and psychological violence in the workplace perpetrated by the employer or other employees against a worker'. The joint committees may propose the creation of special bullying help desks. They may also propose the creation of a protection system similar to that introduced to deal with sexual harassment, with the definition of codes of conduct and the appointment of personal counsellors. The joint committees may ask for their work to be supported by special training courses for personnel.
The renewal of the agreement for ministry employees has been harshly criticised by Confindustria, the major Italian employers’ association, since it considers the deal to be at odds with the objectives of modernising the public administration. According to Stefano Parisi, Confindustria’s managing director, the wage increase granted by the agreement is not in line with the limits set by current incomes policy and confirms a constant trend in recent years. Mr Parisi stated that between 1995 and 2001 wage increases in the public sector amounted to nearly 26%, compared with an inflation rate of some 15% over the same period. Moreover, he considers that setting centrally the amount of variable pay to be distributed at decentralised level is an unacceptable practice, since, in his opinion, it eliminates any link between this kind of pay and the performance of individual administrations. Confindustria has also criticised the fact that the agreement contains no reference to the forms of flexible work (fixed-term, temporary agency and part-time) already widely in use, nor of the opportunities offered by the 'proxy law' on the reform of the labour market passed in February 2003 (IT0303103N). Further points in the agreement criticised by Confindustria are: (a) the lack of any reference to the decentralisation of the civil service currently under way as part of the 'federalist' reform of the Italian state (IT0212107F); (b) the new rules on bullying and sexual harassment, which according to Confindustria risk contributing to the 'immobility' of an organisation of work that is already rigid; and (c) that, according to Confindustria, the action of Aran is often far too influenced by the trade unions.
Reacting to this last statement, the trade union confederations stated that the weight of the unions in the public administration is solely the result of their high representativeness, as confirmed by the results of the most recent elections to public sector Rsus - the establishment-level union representation bodies - where the union confederations obtained 75% of votes. Moreover, the secretaries of the sectoral trade unions, Laimer Armuzzi of Fp-Cgil, Rino Tarelli of Fps-Cisl and Salvatore Bosco of Uilpa, consider the new agreement to be an important achievement in terms of both legal and economic aspects because 'it provides real protection for the purchasing power of employees’ pay'.
Positive comments have also been made by Guido Fantoni, the president of Aran, who has emphasised that the wage increases in the public sector are substantially in line with those in the private sector and that, bearing in mind the splits that have opened up in the trade union front on various issues, 'the agreement signed jointly by Cgil, Cisl and Uil has avoided social conflict, at least in the public system'.
Similarly appreciative comments on the agreement have been made by the deputy Prime Minister, Gianfranco Fini, who, in the name of the government and with reference to the framework agreement of February 2002, expressed 'satisfaction that it has been possible to maintain a pledge which some think too generous but for me corresponds to what is right, given that the agreement complies with the planned inflation ceiling'.
The conclusion of the deal for ministry employees represents the first renewal of the sectoral agreements which are still being negotiated in the public sector. The most important agreement which still awaits renewal is that for the schools sector, which covers some 1.2 million workers. The issues which have been highlighted by the recent agreement for ministry employees may refer to the public sector as a whole
As usual, a particularly difficult task is identifying resources to be used to finance wage increases, particularly in a period when public debt management has to take into account the worsening of the economic situation. Political mediation often becomes an essential component of bargaining and this can have an impact on the final outcomes of negotiations, which are now entrusted to a 'technical' and independent body - Aran. The framework agreement of February 2002 (IT0203102N) was a political solution to a critical element of bargaining. However, the length of the ensuing negotiations has shown the existence of a number of problems, which are related to the earmarking of financial resources to be assigned to the agreement renewal - a constraint which seems particularly important for the schools sector and which stresses once again the key role played by political mediation.
The influence of politics, however, risks having an impact on the transformation of collective bargaining in the public sector, both at central and decentralised levels (IT0212209F), and reducing the convergence of the regulation of the public and private sectors. Whereas at central level, political intervention seems to be regaining importance for reasons essentially connected to the need to keep public debt under control, in decentralised administrations this still happens because there is little separation between political and managerial responsibility. From this point of view, the difficulty of devising reward schemes and forms of performance-related incentives in the public administrations can be explained by the need to determine economic policy targets centrally, in order to keep public finances under check, and by the problems faced by individual administrations when they have to manage bonus schemes. Yet, it is certainly true that significant efforts have been made in this direction.
Despite the problems, the public sector maintains a certain ability to produce significant innovations in terms of human resource management. From this point of view, the joint definition in the agreement for ministry employees of a procedural framework to try to resolve the problems raised by cases of sexual harassment and bullying without resorting to legal action, which is often traumatic for all actors involved, appears interesting. It represents an important contribution to the regulation of problems which are still often ignored within organisations. The implementation of this new regulatory framework, to be monitored in accordance with the agreement, will allow an assessment of whether it really risks making human resource management in the public administrations more rigid, as feared by Confindustria, and its effective contribution to the improvement of working conditions. (Diego Coletto and Roberto Pedersini, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso)