Company accused of anti-union behaviour

Italian company Indesit, one of Europe’s biggest household appliance manufacturers, proposed 1,425 redundancies in a restructuring plan presented to unions in June 2013. After negotiations broke down, the unions organised strikes and protests at Indesit plants. The company suspended production from 28 June to 2 July, saying that lack of supplies caused by strike action had left them with no choice. The unions, however, claim the company was attempting to punish the strikers.

Restructuring plan

The electrical household appliances manufacturer Indesit presented an industrial restructuring plan to trade unions on 4 June 2011, setting out a number of proposals to reorganise its Italian production plants between 2013 and 2015.

  • Investment of €70 million between 2014 and 2016 to improve products and processes in areas such as energy saving, recycling and digital technology.
  • Simplification of the company’s corporate structure, partly by reducing staff numbers at company headquarters.
  • Reorganisation of the production process to ensure that highly innovative and technological models aimed at the medium and high-end markets (principally those in western Europe) are made mainly in Italy. Some production for the eastern European and North African markets will, however, take place in Poland and Turkey.
  • Redundancy for 1,425 members of staff out of a total of 4,300 employed at the Italian plants. These include 25 managers and 150 white-collar workers, but mainly affect blue-collar workers: 480 job cuts at the company’s Fabriano plants in the province of Ancona, 230 at Comunanza in Ascoli Piceno, and 540 at Caserta (see fact sheet from the European Monitoring Centre on Change (EMCC)).

Company halts production

Negotiations between trade unions and the company broke down on 20 June 2013. In response, the Federation of Metallurgical Employees and Workers (FIOM CGIL), the Italian Federation of Metalworkers (FIM CISL) and the Italian Metalworkers’ Union (UILM UIL) organised strikes and protests in all Indesit’s Italian plants, supported by regional institutions, local officials and the communities in which the company plays a fundamental role in the local economy.

Following the strikes, the company blocked production in its two plants at Fabriano from 27 June to 2 July 2013, laying off workers and paying no wages for that period. Indesit said work had to be halted because there were no supplies for the production lines due to the strike action.

Officials from FIM CISL, FIOM CGIL and UILM UIL said they viewed the stoppage as a punishment for previous strikes, accusing the company of anti-union behaviour and organised a national protest on 12 July, together with an eight-hour general strike in all Indesit’s production facilities.

Government-led negotiations

In the first few days of July, national negotiations were convened by the Minister of Economic Development, Flavio Zanonato, who summoned the company and unions to meet representatives of the national government and the Marche and Campania regional administrations.

While the Marche region representatives invited the company to reconsider its industrial plan, they also put forward proposals for territorial development that would safeguard employment through investment in innovation, research and vocational training.

The Marche region has said it is willing, with the help of European funding, to finance the creation of a permanent research and development (R&D) platform for the entire electrical household appliance sector, promoting projects in key areas such as home automation, nanotechnology, sensor technology and design. An interinstitutional working group has been set up, composed of central government representatives and the regions that will help develop the R&D platform.

Reactions

The company has said it is willing to reconsider the plan, ‘while, however, maintaining the fundamental need for competitiveness’, and hopes it will be possible to use solidarity contracts to avoid redundancies (see job security agreement/job creation agreement).

Anna Trovò, National Secretary of FIM CISL, maintains that the government’s creation of a negotiating forum is a ray of hope in this complicated situation. She has said that ‘it will be important to verify the real willingness of the company to modify its industrial plan’.

Gianluca Ficco, National Coordinator for the electrical household appliance sector of UILM UIL, believes that the company’s stated willingness to modify its restructuring plan is ‘still too vague’.

Fabrizio Bassotti, Ancona Regional Secretary of FIOM CGIL, has expressed serious doubts about Indesit’s presence in Italy and he has asked the owners, the Merloni family, to make it clear whether or not they plan to sell Indesit to a foreign buyer.

About the company

Indesit is a long-standing Italian brand of electrical household appliances.

It was founded in Fabriano, in the Marche region, in the early 1950s. In 1987, it was bought out by the Merloni family, owners of Ariston, which was the Indesit brand’s main competitor. Merloni Elettrodomestici became Indesit in 2005, with its biggest logistic site in Russia.

The company’s main brands are Indesit, Hotpoint-Ariston and Scholtès. It has eight industrial sites in Italy, Poland, the UK, Russia and Turkey employing more than 16,000 workers. Approximately 4,300 of these are employed in Italy in five industrial plants in the Campania and Marche regions, which account for about 30% of the company’s total worldwide production.

Vilma Rinolfi, Cesos

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