Trade unions seek to represent workers in new forms of employment

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During 1998, Italy's trade union confederations have created a number of organisations to provide representation for workers involved in new forms of employment relationships - such as temporary agency workers and those in consultancy and "coordinated" freelance work. The aim is to introduce protection for these workers through collective bargaining as well as through legislation.

New forms of employment perceived as "midway between" dependent employment and self-employment - such as as consultancy and freelance work "coordinated" by an employer - are becoming increasingly widespread in Italy. According to a study conducted by the University of Parma, based on the Inps social insurance database, at the beginning of 1997 there were 882,892 workers belonging to these categories (see il Sole 24 Ore, 29 June 1998). However, other studies have estimated that the number of workers involved in this kind of employment relationship is much higher. These forms of employment are particularly common in services and among workers aged between 30 and 40 years. The occupational categories involved are quite heterogeneous as regards skill levels, ranging from unskilled workers to highly-qualified professionals.

A distinctive feature of these employment relationships is the lack of regulation and of protection for the workers. Parliament is seeking to remedy this shortcoming and in September 1997 the Minister of Labour, Tiziano Treu, submitted a "Jobs Statute" (Statuto dei lavori) aimed at regulating this form of work (IT9709310F). Moreover, various other proposals for legislation on the matter were presented in 1997. However, due to the lack of a unified position within the parliamentary majority on the form that regulation should take, for the moment these bills have not been approved.

Meanwhile, another form of employment which is new to the Italian labour market - temporary agency work - was introduced for the first time by legislation in 1997 (IT9707308F).

The trade unions' initiative

The new employment relationships tend to elude representation by trade unions, which have traditionally concerned themselves with dependent employment. However, now that these forms are becoming increasingly widespread, the unions have realized that these occupational categories are also in need of representation. As a consequence, the three main trade union confederations - Cgil, Cisl and Uil have created internal structures designed to organise and provide representation for workers with these new atypical contracts. Thus, in the course of 1998, Cgil has created "New Work Identities" (Nuove Identità di Lavoro, Nidil) and Cisl the Atypical and Temporary Agency Workers' Association (Associazione Lavoratori Atipici e Interinali, Alai). Uil also intends to extend the activity of its Committees for Employment (Comitati per l'Occupazione, Cpo), which have hitherto concerned themselves mainly with unemployed people and workers in "socially useful jobs" (a scheme to employ unemployed persons), to cover temporary agency workers and those with atypical contracts.

These bodies pursue two main goals:

  • to press for recognition of the rights of these atypical workers and to give them protection; and
  • to provide services in the areas of, for example, tax, social security and training.

As far as rights and protection are concerned, the main issues are the following:

  • legal recognition of the distinctive features of these forms of employment;
  • definition of rules as regards social security, health and tax; and
  • regularisation of forms of "clandestine" casual work.

One of the ways identified to achieve protection and rights is collective bargaining. Without eliminating the distinctive features of these employment relationships, it is intended to use bargaining to introduce forms of protection: for example, in the case of illness as regards welfare, and in the case of maternity as regards social security. The issue of pay is equally crucial.

One of the first significant actions taken by these new organisations was the signing of the first national collective agreement for temporary agency workers on 28 May 1998 (IT9806170N), when for the first time a collective agreement was signed not only by the Cgil, Cisl and Uil confederations but also by Nidil-Cgil, Alai-Cisl and Cpo-Uil.

Commentary

The changes in work organisation consequent on the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism have led to the spread of forms of employment which differ from subordinate employment. This process has given rise to a greater differentiation of workers' needs and has complicated the representation activities of trade unions, which are now faced with the task of aggregating increasingly fragmented demands. In the case of workers with atypical labour contracts, it should be borne in mind that these cover a variety of situations which require different forms of protection. Moreover, professionals like consultants, highly-skilled specialists and technicians, given their relatively strong position in the labour market, may give priority to individual rather than collective action. A crucial issue is whether the new organisations created by the unions will be able to aggregate and organise this heterogeneous sector of atypical workers. Moreover, it is precisely this ability to aggregate and mobilise that gives the unions their legitimacy to provide general representation.

Another important problem is defining forms of protection and how to obtain them, and in particular how to combine legal protection with the protection achieved through bargaining. The need to introduce rules, protections and rights is flanked by the need to safeguard flexibility, which is one of the distinctive features of these types of employment. (Marco Trentini, Ires Lombardia)

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