Postal workers strike

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In an ongoing industrial dispute, trade unions have accused the public sector corporation, EPI (the Italian Postal Organisation), of not respecting collective agreements and commitments on employment.

A difficult industrial dispute is presently taking place within EPI, the public organisation that manages Italian postal and telegraphic services. A general strike took place in the organisation on 17 March, with a national demonstration in Rome, in which thousands of workers from all regions took part. A general strike had previously taken place on 10 February, as well as industrial action short of strikes on a regional scale, and restrictions on overtime working.

EPI is in a phase of reorganisation and has to transform itself into a public limited company, in view of the privatisation of some services. The state budget for 1997, passed by Parliament, reduced the resources earmarked for EPI. As a consequence, the EPI president considers it necessary to reduce labour costs by postponing pay increases already agreed with trade unions as part of the most recent national contract renewal and the complementary agreement signed last year. Furthermore, EPI has postponed the implementation of an agreement on employment which provides for recruitment on work-training contracts and the employment of a further 1,800 part-time workers".

The postal workers' trade unions - Slc-CGIL, Slp-CISL and UIL-Post- state that the behaviour of EPI's board of directors violates these agreements, as well as the spirit of the July 1993 central tripartite pact on incomes policy and bargaining and of the more recent tripartite agreement on employment of September 1996, given that EPI's decisions could result in the closure of 4,000 peripheral post offices. The general secretaries of the CGIL, CISL and UIL union confederations have pressed for the direct intervention of the Prime Minister, as the Government was party to the disputed agreements at EPI and is seen as their guarantor.

During the dispute, a particular disagreement has emerged between EPI and trade unions concerning the "legitimacy" of restricting overtime work as a means of protest. The president of EPI turned to the Guarantee Commission (Commissione di Garanzia), established under the legislation on the right to strike in public services, claiming that the restriction of overtime work could be considered as a combination of strike actions prolonged over time. Such action is forbidden by the regulations governing strikes in postal services, which allow for actions of no more than 24 hours, and with an interval of no less than seven days between two actions. The trade unions have thus modified their dispute methods following this intervention, by reverting to a rigid observation of the rules that regulate overtime work.

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