National collective agreement in metalworking industry renewed

In January 2008, after seven months of negotiations, the social partners in the metalworking sector signed the draft agreement for the renewal of the national industry-wide collective agreement. Among the new and innovative provisions introduced are the six-month extension of the agreement’s duration, an increase in gross pay of €127 and the equalisation scheme for blue-collar and white-collar workers as regards both pay and normative aspects of the agreement.

Protracted negotiations

On 20 January 2008, the social partners in the metalworking sector signed the draft agreement for renewal of the national industry-wide collective agreement. The draft agreement was reached through the mediation of the then Minister of Labour, Cesaro Damiano. On the trade union side, the signatories to the draft agreement are the sectoral organisations affiliated to the three main confederations – the Federation of White-collar and Blue-collar Metalworkers (Federazione impiegati operai metallurgici, Fiom-Cgil), the Italian Metalworkers’ Federation (Federazione italiana metalmeccanici, Fim-Cisl) and the Italian Metalworkers’ Union (Unione italiana lavoratori metalmeccanici, Uilm-Uil). On the employer side, the signatories include the Federation of Metalworking Industries (Federazione Sindacale dell’Industria Metalmeccanica, Federmeccanica) and the National Association of Plant Constructors (Associazione Nazionale dei Costruttori di Impianti, Assistal), both of which belong to Italy’s largest employer organisation, the Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria).

The negotiations for renewal of the industry-wide agreement – which covers more than 1.5 million workers – lasted seven months and cost 40 hours of strike action. Also testifying to the bargaining difficulties were the unilateral pay increases paid by some companies in the sector; for instance, in light of its good economic performance, the Fiat Group decided to pay its employees an advance of future wage increases, in order to accelerate conclusion of the sector’s bargaining round (IT0711019I).

The draft agreement which has been submitted for approval to the industry’s workers contains significant and innovative variations from previous provisions. Firstly, the agreement’s duration period has been extended by six months in return for a pay increase greater than that demanded by the trade unions’ common bargaining platform (IT0704019I). Secondly, it provides for equalising the contractual treatment of blue-collar and white-collar workers. The main provisions of the agreement are outlined under the following headings.

Industrial relations

The draft agreement provides for the establishment of a joint National Observatory to conduct research studies and projects in the field of industrial relations and employment relations, such as the monitoring of company-level bargaining with a particular focus on the payment of performance-related bonuses and specific initiatives regarding the workplace environment and safety. Moreover, the agreement implements – as requested by the common bargaining platform of Fiom-Cgil, Fim-Cisl and Uilm-UilCouncil Directive 2002/14/EC establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in companies with at least 50 employees. The EU directive had already been transposed into national law by the Italian government in 2007 (IT0612039I).

Employment contracts

In order to restrict the repetitive use of fixed-term employment contracts, the draft agreement sets out a limit of a 44-month time span to renew fixed-term employment relationships. This means that the total sum of employment periods, even if not continuous, of a worker who is hired by the same company and for the same job under a certain type of contract that is different from a permanent one – such as a temporary agency or fixed-term employment contract – cannot exceed 44 months. After this time span, the company must hire the worker on an indefinite-term employment contract. The agreement also stipulates that, in the case of workers already employed on fixed-term contracts by the same company, the probationary period must be reduced or annulled.

Job classification

The draft agreement provides for the creation of a joint consultation body with the aim of devising a new job classification system by February 2009. The basis for the new system will be the proposal made by the sectoral trade unions, Fiom, Fim and Uilm, in their common bargaining platform presented in April 2007. If the joint consultation body has not reached agreement by the deadline of February 2009, fifth and third-level workers in the industry with proven skills and experience will be assigned a higher pay bracket. For third-level workers, the increase will amount to a pay level between the third and fourth level, representing about €26 a month.

Equal opportunities for blue-collar and white-collar workers

A particularly innovative aspect of the agreement is the equalisation scheme for levelling out differences in employment contracts between blue-collar and white-collar workers, which the trade unions have long requested. As a result of this equalisation scheme, which will come into effect on 1 January 2009, the contractual treatment of workers in the metalworking industry will be consolidated regarding both economic and legal aspects. This involves extending contractual employment arrangements of white-collar workers to blue-collar workers; for example, wages will now be paid according to the monthly pay system to both categories of workers. This means that pay is due for the entire working month without taking into account any periods of suspension not caused by non-performance of contract on the part of employees themselves. So far, the wage of blue-collar workers corresponded to the number of hours actually worked and was therefore affected by suspensions of work, even when these were not the fault of the employee. Blue-collar workers who are employed by a company in the industry as of 31 December 2008 will receive pay for 11 hours and 10 minutes a year extra when the December wage for the year is paid, in order to avoid any reduction of the annual wage due to the monthly pay system.

The equalisation scheme also provides for additional leave days for blue-collar workers which are calculated on the basis of company seniority – that is, length of service in the same company – as of 1 January 2009. Up until now, this rule only applied to white-collar workers. The seniority required for such an entitlement will be counted starting on the same date as the rule takes effect – 1 January 2009. However, to take into account a worker’s length of service prior to that date, workers with 10 years of service and aged 55 years will be entitled to an additional day of leave a year.

Moreover, the rules on pay increments based on length of service have been simplified by linking the entitlement to such benefits to the length of service in the company rather than to job grades.

Working time

In exchange for the normative improvements in the agreement’s provisions outlined above, the draft agreement sets out increased flexibility in the management of working time. In terms of overtime – working time over the collectively agreed 39.2 hours in the industry – companies with at least 201 employees will be allowed to use five instead of four Saturdays a year for overtime per worker, while companies with fewer employees can request their staff to work overtime on six instead of five Saturdays.

Moreover, the advance notice required for annual paid leave – seven days in total, in addition to the 27 days of statutory paid leave – is reduced to 15 days, while company management is free to move one of the seven days to the following year; the worker, however, may ask for payment instead or move the day to the so-called rest-hours account.

The rules on the multi-week work schedule will be extended to all companies in the industry. Nonetheless, the agreement confirms the role of the unitary workplace union structure (RSU) in defining how these rules are to be applied. The weekly work schedule varies at certain periods of the year – thus enabling a degree of working time flexibility – and will rise between 10% and 15% for hours worked from Monday to Friday, and between 15% and 25% for hours worked on Saturdays.

Health and safety

In terms of health and safety at the workplace, the agreement stipulates that companies must inform all workers on specific company problems relative to safety on the job; as a rule, this type of information should be updated every six months. Moreover, the agreement increases the time available to workers’ health and safety representatives (Rappresentanti dei Lavoratori per la Sicurezza, RLS) from 50 to 70 hours annually for calling meetings or informing workers on current workplace health and safety issues. The agreement probably pays close attention to this topic due to the alarming data on work-related accidents issued by the Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority (Istituto Nazionale Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro, INAIL), in addition to the serious workplace accident at the Thyssen-Krupp metalworking plant in Turin in December 2007 (IT0801039I).

Pay increases

The agreement provides for a €300 one-off payment, including the allowance for the gap between the expiry of the previous collective agreement and renewal date of the latest agreement, in March 2008. The increase in the wage-tariff minima or basic pay is calculated on a 30-month contractual period – six months more than envisaged by the tripartite Agreement of 23 July 1993. The increase corresponds to a 7.24% pay rise or an average increase in gross pay of €127, which will be paid in three instalments: €60 in January 2008, €37 in January 2009 and €30 in September 2009. For instance, for a third-level worker, who normally works on the assembly line, the provision of a €127 pay increase, on average, is equivalent to a wage increase of €110. To allow for a greater increase in pay than that of €117 envisaged by the Fiom, Fim and Uilm bargaining platform, the contractual period on which the increase is calculated has been extended.

Social partner reactions

The difficult nature of the negotiations is apparent from the reactions of the social partners to the agreement reached. The General Secretary of Fiom-Cgil, Gianni Rinaldini, has expressed a ‘positive judgement that cannot hide the fact that the accord derives from a compromise’. Overall, the trade unions are satisfied with the draft agreement since they consider that they have ‘defended the validity of the national collective agreement, under attack by the employer organisations’. Minister Damiano also welcomed the draft agreement, underlining the central importance of the national collective agreement in the Italian industrial relations system.

Confindustria, for its part, deemed ‘the agreement onerous but acceptable because of its attention paid to workplace safety, pay issues and certain aspects of organisational flexibility’, according to a statement issued after the draft agreement’s publication. Nonetheless, the employers were highly critical of the trade unions, whose ‘obstinate and conservative stance has prevented the introduction of significant innovations’.

Commentary

It is evident from the social partner reactions to the draft agreement that conflict between the metalworking trade unions and the employer organisations continues to be high, even after the bargaining for the new industry-wide agreement has ended. The most controversial issues concern: the function of the national collective agreement in relation to company-level bargaining; the procedures for agreement renewals which always begin later than the given deadlines; and the revision of the entire bargaining system introduced by the Agreement of 23 July 1993, which both sides deem to be outdated by now. Nevertheless, the positions of trade unions and employers are still too distant for a joint revision of the bargaining system to be possible in the near future.

Cristina Tajani, Ires Lombardia

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