Government proposes reducing the working week to 35 hours

Download article in original language : IT9710133NIT.DOC

Following an important agreement reached between the Italian and French Governments, in October 1997 the Italian Government announced a legislative initiative to reduce the working week to 35 hours, starting from 1 January 2001

A meeting in Chambéry between the French and Italian Prime Ministers, Romano Prodi and Lionel Jospin, ended on 3 October 1997 with the approval of a document on employment and working hours. The document outlines a common strategy between the two governments, and in particular defines guidelines to reduce working hours. It specifies that the reduction of working hours "will have to be agreed upon by the social partners, in order for it to be effectively useful in creating new jobs. The cost of this will have to be met by the economic support of both companies as well as workers and with financial aid from the state".

The Italian-French document has served as a response to the problems which arose when the Rifondazione Comunista Party asked the Italian Government to include a decision to reduce the working week to 35 hours, by the year 2000, in the 1998 Budget, in order to resolve the government crisis over the Budget which was sparked off by Rifondazione Comunista on 31 September 1997 (IT9710136N).

The agreement which was finally reached with the Rifondazione Comunista: enabled the government crisis to be overcome; allowed for the approval of the Budget as negotiated with the social partners; and assigned the Government the task of presenting a framework law by January 1998, which will provide - through consultation procedures with the social partners - for the reduction of the working week to 35 hours, from 1 January 2001. This will apply to all companies with more than 15 employees and across all sectors.

The Chambéry document was not well received by the social partners, given that both the Confindustria employers' confederation and the three main trade union confederations - Cgil, Cisl and Uil- have declared their opposition to reducing working hours by law. Following the announcement of the 35-hour week legislation, the social partners have taken a hard line against the Government decision.

Confindustria threatened to block negotiations, in particular for the industry-wide agreements that are under discussion at the moment, the most important of which is for the chemicals sector. Cgil, Cisl and Uil have also declared their opposition to the Government initiative and have protested that the government decision detracts from the role of social dialogue. The trade unions therefore insist that negotiations over any reductions in working hours should be carried out directly with employers and without legislative interventions.

Following a government announcement which confirmed that the drawing up of a law to reduce working hours will have to be the subject of tripartite negotiation, the Confindustria board of directors, which met in Milan on 16 October 1997, decided to suspend the block on negotiations and to wait for the results of a meeting with the trade unions and the Government which will take place on the 28 October 1997. The trade unions have agreed on the necessity to start up new talks with Confindustria and the government over the reduction of working hours.

The French Government has also announced legislation to introduce a 35-hour week since the Chambéry meeting (FR9710169F)

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