All parties agree to renewal of collective agreement in food industry

On 22 September 2009, an accord was signed renewing the industry-wide agreement for the food industry. This is the first sectoral agreement signed by all three trade union confederations since the rift caused by the interconfederal agreement of January 2009 on changes to the collective bargaining structure. The new accord provides for pay and legal aspects. The social partners have welcomed the settlement, citing it as a model for other sectors to follow.

The agreement signed on 22 September 2009 by the trade unions and employer organisation in the food industry covers about 450,000 workers and comes four months after the expiry of the previous agreement and follows 16 hours of strike action in the sector. The signatory parties comprised the:

  • Agri-Food Industry Workers Federation (Federazione Lavoratori Agro Industria, Flai-Cgil);
  • Agro-Industrial, Food and Environment Federation (Federazione Agricola Alimentare Ambientale Industriale, Fai-Cisl);
  • Italian Agri-Food Industry Workers’ Union (Unione Italiana Lavoratori Agroalimentare, Uila-Uil);
  • Italian Federation of Food and Drink Industries (Federazione Italiana dell’Industria Alimentare, Federalimentare).

First joint sectoral agreement since trade union conflict

This accord thus assumes great importance as the first industry-wide agreement (contratto collettivo nazionale di lavoro, CCNL) signed jointly by all three trade union confederations since the rift in January 2009 between the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), on the one hand, and the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil), on the other. These tensions arose over a reform of the collective bargaining system (IT0904029I, IT0905029I). The settlement reached by the agri-food trade unions therefore sets a good example for industries such as metalworking where negotiations on agreement renewals are taking place on separate bargaining platforms.

The food industry agreement contains innovative aspects in both its pay and legal parts, including the extension of the agreement’s validity from 36 to 40 months.

Economic aspects

The settlement provides for a wage increase of 8.02% (€142 a month for the three-year period) paid in four instalments: €45.44 gross from 1 October 2009, €42.60 gross from 1 April 2010, €28.40 gross from 1 April 2011 and €25.56 gross from 1 June 2011. Added to this increase is a lump-sum payment of €227.20 to cover the collective agreement gap – that is, the period between the expiry of the agreement in May 2009 and its renewal.

Moreover, the parties agreed that supplementary bargaining at sectoral, regional or group level should be encouraged as a means of increasing wages. Workers in companies that do not engage in collective bargaining should receive a pay increment of €25 a month, compared with €24 in the previous agreement.

Legal aspects

The legal or normative innovations concern social welfare in terms of health insurance and income support, as well as gender policies, health and safety, and greater job security for those in precarious work. More specifically, the agreement stipulates the provisions outlined below.

  • The agreement provides for the creation – from 1 January 2011 – of a supplementary health fund into which companies will pay €10 a month for each employee, with an optional further €2. Furthermore, a sectoral bipartite body will be created in order to manage social welfare services, including income support.
  • From 2011, companies will pay the bipartite body €2 a month for each employee to finance maternity allowances in the period of optional post-natal leave taken by female workers. Moreover, in order to support equal opportunities, the agreement introduces the principle of gender difference in the assignment of work tasks.
  • To strengthen workplace health and safety policies, the paid hours of training for workers’ safety representatives (Rappresentante dei Lavoratori per la Sicurezza, RLS) are increased by eight hours.
  • With regard to the job security of precarious workers, the agreement stipulates that seasonal workers will have right of precedence in recruitment on fixed-term employment contracts, while workers on fixed-term contracts will have precedence for permanent posts.

Reactions of social partners

The reactions of the social partners have been very positive, as the agreement precedes the renewal of other sectoral agreements – in the metalworking, chemicals, telecommunications and tourism industries – where negotiations appear difficult and the trade union front is split.

The President of Federalimentare, Giandomenico Auricchio, highlighted the benefits of the extension to the agreement’s validity: ‘with expiry on 30 September 2012, the agreement has been extended so that bargaining can resume after the summer, one of the most delicate periods for our sector’. For their part, the trade unions expressed satisfaction with the wage increases and with the innovations in the agreement’s legal part. The Secretary of Flai-Cgil, Stefania Crogi, emphasised that the pay increase had been agreed on an index different from that anticipated by the Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria), Cisl and Uil in the separate agreement of January 2009 (IT0904029I); this development would help to restore purchasing power. The leaders of Cisl and Uil, Raffaele Bonanni and Luigi Angeletti, declared that this agreement renewal is the model to follow in restoring trade union unity in other sectors as well.

Commentary

The next few months will show whether the negotiations still ongoing in the metalworking, chemicals, tourism and telecommunications industries will follow the model of the unanimous agreement for agri-food workers, or whether they will conclude with separate agreements. However, it is not a good omen that negotiations in these sectors are proceeding on separate bargaining platforms, whereas in the food industry the renewal came about on the basis of a platform shared by all three main trade unions.

Cristina Tajani, Fondazione Seveso

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