Italy: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019
The impact of the European election results on the government coalition, trade union unrest during the renewal period for collective agreements, and the latest employment and education statistics from Istat are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in the second quarter of 2019.
European elections shift balance between coalition partners
The European elections of 26 May 2019 brought different results for the two coalition partners, the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League. As largely anticipated by the polls, the League became the dominant party after receiving 34% of the votes cast, while the M5S fell to third position with 17%. The Democratic Party’s share increased to 22%, ranking the party second.
The European elections and last year’s national general elections are not comparable for several reasons, one being the variation in voter turnout rate (59% for the 2019 European elections compared to 72% for the 2018 national elections). However, the figures for the 2019 European elections are the reverse of the 2018 results (where the M5S received 32% of votes and the League 17%), which could affect the relationship between the two coalition partners and the government’s agenda. For example, the introduction of a minimum wage (which was backed by the M5S) has been replaced in the political and public debate by the enactment of a so-called ‘flat tax’ (i.e. a proportional taxation of 15% on all incomes up to a certain threshold to support the middle class).
However, the overall European election results do not suggest a change in EU budgetary policies and surveillance, which emphasises the importance of the forthcoming Stability Law (the new draft budget law). On 3 July, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Labour and Economic Development, Luigi Di Maio met with the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (CISL) and the Italian Labour Union (UIL) to discuss employment and economic policies.
This was followed by a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Matteo Salvini and social partners on 15 July. The participants discussed measures for economic growth, with a special focus on fiscal issues, the flat tax and investments in infrastructure. 
The social partners appreciated the meetings, but underlined their request to stage proper negotiations to address specific issues with a view to agreeing on policy initiatives. 
- Ministry of Internal Affairs: Eligendo: Speciale elezioni 2019
Renewal period for agreements marked by union actions
Several trade unions at sectoral and cross-industry level began to mobilise in the second quarter of 2019, with most asking the government for measures to support economic growth, employment creation and social justice. In addition, negotiations began over the renewal of a number of collective agreements (which mostly involve the private sector). Two-thirds of the agreements monitored by the National Institute of Statistics (Istat) are awaiting renewal, with ongoing negotiations in the banking sector, for private health services and for household workers. In the public administration sector, all collective agreements have expired and are due to be renegotiated in the coming months. 
The most significant actions took place in June and were linked to the demonstration that CGIL, CISL and UIL held on 9 February. At the demonstration, the trade unions demanded to be involved in the definition of the government’s policy priorities and initiatives with a view to ensuring a ‘future for work’. 
On 14 June, the metalworker trade unions affiliated with CGIL, CISL and UIL staged an eight-hour national strike with demonstrations in Florence, Milan and Naples. The collective agreement for the sector is due to expire at the end of 2019 and so this demonstration was significant in light of the forthcoming negotiations. The main demands from the trade unions concerned the introduction of measures to actively support manufacturing, the valorisation of work and the promotion of health and safety at work. According to the metalworker unions, in order to support economic growth and enhance the quality of employment, it is important to use collective bargaining to support wage increases by reducing the fiscal burden on labour and the distribution of productivity gains related to innovation. 
On 22 June, CGIL, CISL and UIL organised a national demonstration in Reggio Calabria to demand new policies to support the economy of the southern regions, which were badly affected by the 2008 financial crisis. According to the unions, tackling the difficult economic and employment situation in the south of Italy should be at the top of the government’s agenda. 
Occupational returns for education on the increase but gender gap remains
According to a recent publication of the National Institute of Statistics (Istat), educational achievement in Italy has increased. However, it remains below the European average, largely because of lower levels of tertiary education (19% of the Italian population between 25 and 64 years hold a tertiary degree, compared to 32% in the EU). Tertiary degrees are more common among women (22.1%) than men (16.5%) and female tertiary education rates have increased more rapidly in the last four years. However, women remain substantially underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
In terms of the occupational returns, tertiary education significantly improves the employment opportunities for all – particularly women – especially in areas with high unemployment levels. However, the employment rate of women with a tertiary degree remains lower than that of men (75% compared to 83.7%). In addition, the occupational returns of education for younger people are lower than for older ones, highlighting the persistent difficulties that young people experience when trying to enter the Italian labour market. 
The results of the European election have increased the competition between the two coalition partners and may fuel some tension, due to their different priorities in terms of economic and employment policies. The League-sponsored fiscal reform is expected to reduce revenues and, under the EU budgetary discipline, the forthcoming Stability Law will be a key test for the government. In this framework, the government may try to gain the support of the social partners and reinstate social dialogue, although there are no clear signs in that direction.
CISL (2019), Manovra. Furlan: ‘Necessario aprire un confronto con le parti sociali. Prossima manovra sarà molto complessa’ , 15 July.
CISL (2019), Manovra. Cgil Cisl Uil al Governo: ‘Avviare una fase di confronto ’, 17 July.
CISL (2019), Imponente manifestazione a Roma di Cgil Cisl Uil. Furlan: ‘Ora il Governo esca dalla realtà virtuale e si confronti con il sindacato ’, 9 February.
CISL (2019), Mezzogiorno. Imponente manifestazione dei sindacati a Reggio Calabria. Furlan: ‘Non ci fermeremo fino a quando non verremo ascoltati’ , 22 June.