Under new agreement call centre workers to get standard employment contracts
In December 2006, the Italian trade unions of the telecommunications sector and the Almaviva Group signed a historic agreement to hire 6,500 temporary workers, who currently hold freelance work contracts, on open-ended employment contracts. The trade unions welcomed the agreement and hope that it will be extended to workers of call centre companies.
In December 2006, the Italian trade unions representing the workers of the communications sector and the Almaviva Group signed a milestone agreement to transform 500 so-called ‘project collaboration work’ contracts (IT0501NU01) into traditional employee contracts. The Almaviva holding company, an Italian leader in information technology and customer relations management (CRM) services, runs the largest group of call centres in Italy. On the trade union side, the signatories of the agreement included the sectoral federations of the three largest union confederations – the Communication Workers’ Union (Sindacato dei Lavoratori della Conoscenza, Slc-Cgil), the Information, Entertainment and Telecommunications Workers’ Union (Federazione Informazione Spettacolo e Telecomunicazione, Fistel-Cisl) and Italian Communications’ Workers Union (Unione Italiana Lavoratori della Communicazione, Uilcom-Uil).
The agreement provides for the regular employment of workers who currently work as freelancers under a project-based temporary contract with the group’s call centre companies, including Atesia, Cos, Alicos and InAction. These workers will be employed on a four-hour part-time open-ended contract, which is covered by the third level of the national collective agreement (contratti collettivi nazionali di lavoro, CCNL) in the telecommunications sector (IT0512305F). A further 1,000 call centre operators will see their project-based contracts converted into professionally qualifying apprenticeship contracts.
Regular employment for call centre workers
To date, some 6,500 people work on the basis of project collaboration work contracts in the Almaviva Group, most of whom are involved in call centre activities. Of these workers, 4,000 operators receive phone calls and are thus considered ‘inbound operators’, and some 2,500 are ‘outbound’ operators, that is, making phone calls. As a result of the agreement, Almaviva will employ about 11,000 employees in the call centre sector alone, including those workers who already had a regular employment contract. This means that over 97% of workers in the group will have open-ended employment contracts.
The new open-ended employment contracts, which the group proposes to inbound and outbound operators, overcome the difference between these two types of operators, as set out in the June 2006 Government Circular No. 17/2006 of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (Ministero del Lavoro e della Previdenza Sociale) (IT0609019I). The circular has restricted the use of freelance workers to outbound activities performed by call centre operators hired for short-term promotional campaigns. It deems the use of freelance contracts for workers supplying online customer care and assistance, or inbound activities, to be unlawful. It thus provides for the gradual reduction of precarious employment in all call centres. This government circular was, in fact, the result of an agreement between the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the trade unions.
Furthermore, the open-ended employment contracts include the following benefits for the group’s workers: sickness and accident benefits; maternity leave (currently, 70% of the permanent workers are women); paid holidays; and a year-end bonus in the form of a thirteenth month’s salary.
Reactions to agreement
According to the Almaviva Group, this decision ‘will have positive effects for customers in terms of quality of the services offered, and will make it possible to operate within a clear regulatory framework comprising satisfactory protections for the workers’. The group’s President, Alberto Tripi, hopes that an employment commitment of such an unprecedented scope may contribute to achieving smoothly the growth aims of Almaviva’s industrial strategy.
The Confederate Secretary of Cisl, Anna Maria Furlan, emphasises that it is ‘a historic agreement that will have an extremely positive impact on the entire sector of outsourced call centres’. Ms Furlan added that ‘the fact of having reached an agreement with the company that runs the largest group of call centres in Italy makes it possible to commence negotiation of agreements involving all the companies of the sector.’
The Mayor of Rome, Water Veltroni, supports this opinion, by stating that the agreement signed by the confederal trade unions and the Almaviva Group ‘is bound to leave its mark’. He believes this is due to the fact that the agreement stabilises the employment position of thousands of workers, and that it is based on ‘the idea of stability being the norm of the labour market, and that this way it is possible to improve the quality of the service offered and strengthen the companies’ development prospects’.
The Minister of Labour and Social Security, Cesare Damiano, also considers the agreement to represent ‘a true turning point’ and ‘a success for both the trade unions and the company’. Mr Damiano, however, urges the social partners to ‘look forward and to ensure homogeneous employment conditions and labour cost stability in all call centre companies, guaranteeing thus equal rights for the workers and fair competition among the companies’.
With this agreement, companies aim to protect themselves against the possible actions of labour inspectors. The previous centre-right government tended to weaken the scope of action of labour inspectors in terms of monitoring the application of atypical forms of employment. The new government, headed by Prime Minister Romano Prodi, changed this approach and labour inspectors have become much more active. Today, legal infringements by companies are more severely sanctioned from an economic point of view. In fact, labour inspectors are in the position to impose severe fines and also to oblige companies to transform atypical work contracts into regular open-ended employment contracts; the latter take effect from the workers’ hiring date. In this case, companies have to pay any arrears to both the workers and the social welfare institutions. As a result, companies prefer to negotiate alternative solutions with the trade unions since such solutions have a more gradual impact on the company’s costs.
Marta Santi, Cesos