Italy: EIRO Annual Review - 2009

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 10 Januar 2011


2009 was a particularly difficult year for industrial relations in Italy. The economic crisis caused major restructurings, plant closures and job losses. The government, local authorities and social partners reacted by launching an extraordinary programme for 2009-2010, in order to support workers in difficulties. The measures concerned dependent employees, excluding self-employed workers, and marginally affecting quasi-subordinate workers.The second crucial event was the signing of the agreement on reform of the bargaining system by the government, employers’ associations, and trade unions, with the important exception of Cgil, which refused to sign. However Cgil signed the majority of agreement renewals, with the single important exception of the metalworkers’ agreement.

1. Political developments

The government in office is a centre-right coalition headed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Administrative elections were held on 6 and 7 June 2009, simultaneously with the European elections. The average turnout was 53%. The most important municipalities in which voting took place were Bologna, Florence and Bari, where the centre-left gained the majority. The largest provinces were Milan and Venice, where the centre-right won, and Turin, where the centre-left prevailed. From the point of view of electoral trends, there were no significant differences with respect to the 2008 general elections, with substantial confirmation of majority consensus for the centre-right coalition.

On 22 January 2009, the government, the employers’ associations including the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell'Industria Italiana, CONFINDUSTRIA), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, CISL) and Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, UIL) reached accord on collective bargaining reform. But the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, CGIL) refused to sign the agreement; a refusal which initiated a phase of strong tensions in Italian industrial relations (see point 2).

At the end April an agreement between Fiat and Chrysler was signed, with the latter acquing 35% of the Italian group’s capital. In July the first strikes began at Termini Imerese (Sicily) against the decision by Fiat to halt car production at the Sicilian plant.

2009 saw the death at 82 of Gino Giugni, an important labour law expert of the post-war period and inspirer of the 1970 Workers’ Statute (Law 300/70), the principal component of labour law in Italy.

2009 was also marked by severe natural and human disasters. In April an earthquake struck Abruzzo and its regional capital l’Aquila. There were 298 deaths, and more than 1500 casualties, with huge damage to towns and villages. In June two railway wagons transporting gas exploded at the station of Viareggio (Tuscany): 31 people living in nearby houses lost their lives. Finally, in October, in a village close to Messina (Sicily) a landslide swept a number houses away causing 35 deaths.

On 28 and 29 March 2010, administrative elections will be held to renew the executive committees and councils of 13 regions: Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Marche, Umbria, Lazio, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia and Calabria. The majority of the Italian electorate will be voting. There is no doubt that these elections will be an important test of the new political balance in the country.

2. Collective bargaining developments

2009 was a particularly difficult year as regards collective bargaining. In in January an agreement was signed by the government, employers’ associations (among them Confindustria), Cisl and Uil on the reform of the collective bargaining system (IT0902059I). Cgil refused to sign the agreement on the grounds that it abrogated the agreement of July 1993 (IT9803223F, IT9709212F, IT9702102N) which pivoted on the inflation rate forecast by the government. The new model adopted a new forecast index calculated by a third party on the basis of European parameters (IPCA indices) net of energy costs. Moreover, again according to the reform, wages lost in national industry-wide bargaining (in comparison with the real inflation rate) would be recovered in supplementary or decentralized bargaining through company-level bargaining or territorial agreements (this last for medium-sized and small firms without company-level agreements). Finally, the duration of nation-wide sectoral agreements (CCNL) was fixed at 3 years, for both the legal and economic parts (previously, the duration of the legal part had been 4 years, with 2 years for the economic part).

Following the agreement, renewal of expired CCNLs was, at least initially, very difficult. Separate bargaining platforms were put forward for agreement renewals by the trade-union confederations, with Cisl and Uil on the one side, and Cgil on the other, both adhering to their positions and unable to settle their differences and to adopt a unitary list of claims.

Despite these initial difficulties, the final part of the year saw a united front among Cgil, Cisl and Uil in regard to the renewal of important agreements, such as for the food industry IT0910029I, telecommunications IT0911019I and the chemicals sector IT1001029I, where the Cgil federations accepted the extension of the economic part of the agreement from 2 to 3 years (as foreseen by the reform). However, this did not happen in the case of the most important industrial agreement (in terms of the number of workers involved), that for the metalworking sector IT0911029I, which in October was signed only by the Italian Federation of Metalworkers (Federazione Italiana Metalmeccanici, FIM-CISL) and the Italian Metalworkers’ Union (Unione Italiana Lavoratori Metalmeccanici, UILM-UIL), and not by the Italian Federation of Blue-Collar Metalworkers (Federazione Italiana Operai Metalmeccanici, FIOM-CGIL), the most representative union in the sector.

However, in general, the Cgil’s opposition to reform of the bargaining system did not significantly deteriorate industrial relations. In fact, after an initial breakdown in the system, the social partners, in particular the unions, were able to resolve their differences and to unite on renewal of most agreements (with the important exception, in the private sector, of that for metalworkers).

As regards the public sector, which was not affected by the reform in that it applied to private firms, there were separate agreements signed in January for the employees of ministries, schools, universities, tax agencies and non-economic public bodies. These were signed by Cisl and Uil, but not by Cgil, which criticised the inadequacy of the pay increases with respect to the real inflation rate (IT0902039I). In early June, by contrast, Cgil, Cisl and Uil all signed the agreement for public-sector employees in the autonomous regions.

From the quantitative point of view, 2009 again saw a significant downturn compared with previous years in the number of agreements signed. The Economy and Labour National Council (Consiglio Nazionale dell’Economia e del Lavoro, CNEL) data report 72 agreements signed in 2007, 58 in 2008, and 31 in 2009 (Table 1). As regards 2009, at the time of writing of this report (February 2010) CNEL data had not been updated, therefore the final figure may vary.

Table 1 shows the CCNLs stipulated in 2009, including both four-yearly agreement renewals (legal part economic part) and two-yearly ones (only the economic part of the so-called ‘second biennium’). The CNEL has not yet adopted in its classification system of agreements the changes introduced by the reform, which fixes the validity of agreements at 3 years (for both the economic and legal parts).

Table 1. Nation-wide bargaining 2009
1 Radio television Private
2 Cinema Private
3 Theatre Other
4 Sports amenities PPSS
5 Commercial agents Private
6 Professional firms Private
7 Maritime PPSS
8 Insurance Private
9 Ministries Public
10 Research Public
11 School Public
12 University Public
13 Tax agencies Public
14 Non-economic public bodies Public
15 Social welfare services (Uneba) PPSS
16 Journalism Private
17 Police Public
18 Fishery Private
19 Local authorities Public
20 Cultural bodies Other
21 Tobacco PPSS
22 Food Private
23 Agricultural consortia Cooperative
24 Metalworking Private
25 Telecommunications Private
26 Cattle and poultry farming Private
27 Paper Private
28 Senior civil servants Public
29 Bakery Private
30 Industrial laundry Private
31 Chemicals Private

Source: CNEL archive

PPSS = Partly state-owned private enterprise

There is no archive of agreements stipulated at company level. However, as reported by the Annuario del Diario del Lavoro (Mascini, 2009), the share of workers covered by second-level bargaining is decreasing: around 3 million in the private sector, equal to abou 40% of the total.

The most significant company-level agreements signed during 2009 were the following: Marzotto, Piaggio (not signed by Fiom-Cgil), Fincantieri (signed subsequently by Fiom-Cgil), St Microelectronics, Alenia Aermacchi, Benetton. To be mentioned is the dispute on renewal of the second-level agreement for Carrefour, where the retail multinational unilaterally decided to withdraw from the supplementary agreement in force in September, exacerbating relations with the unions, which announced a strike by the French group’s employees.


The pay increases brought by the agreement renewals amounted to an average of 7% in 3 years, equal to around € 120 gross in the three-year period. Such increases were justified in different ways by the unions. While the Cgil claimed that they were above the level foreseen by the IPCA calculation (the European index taken as the benchmark by the reform, not signed by Cgil, as regards wage adjustments), Cisl and Uil declared that the new calculation system introduced in January had been correctly applied and that if the increases were higher, this was due to other items added to the final sum.

Working time

In recent years, the trend in bargaining on working time has been to increase, or to facilitate, the flexibility of normal working hours and to raise the annual ceiling. For example, the renewed agreement of the chemicals sector increased weekly working time from 37.45 to 38 hours (1.5 more working days in a year). In the large-scale retail sector, the tendency is to extend compulsory Sunday work to a significant number of Sundays through annual scheduling.

Other developments

To be mentioned in particular among the other recurrent themes in bargaining is – after the introduction in past years of supplementary pension funds – the creation of bilateral bodies and supplementary funds (on the example of the construction and commercial/tertiary sectors) furnishing welfare services (income support, for optional maternity leave, etc.) and healthcare (specialist medical expenses, diagnostic examinations, etc.). There is also a certain concern for ‘stabilization’. i.e. the right of workers on fixed-term contracts to be given precedence when new hirings are made by firms.

3. Legislative developments

2009 was not a year of significant legislation (by parliament or the government) concerning the world of work and industrial relations, with the exception of the above-mentioned agreement reforming the bargaining system (although this in fact was an agreement between the social partners, not a state law) and the anti-crisis measures related to the social shock absorbers (on which see point 7).

The only major intervention was legislative decree 106 of 3 August 2009 which supplemented and amended legislative decree 81/2008, known as the Testo Unico per la Sicurezza sul Lavoro (Consolidated Text on Workplace Safety) IT0910019I. The aim of the modifications concerning workplace health and safety was to prioritize prevention and to increase sanctions. The changes were welcomed by the employers’ associations (Confindustria had criticised the first decree of 2008) and by Cisl and Uil, while criticisms were voiced by Cgil.

4. Organisation and role of the social partners

No changes occurred in industrial relations as far as the role of the social partners is concerned.

As regards internal debate at Cgil, its 16th Congress began in November and will conclude in May 2010 (IT0912019I). The discussion will centre on two contrasting policy documents: the first (for the majority) put forward by the general secretary, Guglielmo Epifani, the second (for the minority) by Fiom and the Public Service Union (Fonzione Pubblica, FP-CGIL) (respectively representing metalworkers and public-sector employees, the most important Cgil affiliates). This division is symptomatic of the concerns of the executive of Cgil (the most representative union in the country), which was opposed to the policies adopted by the other unions, Cisl and Uil, and which, during 2009, appeared isolated within the Italian industrial relations system. What unites the two documents and the Cgil executive is instead their demand for a law on trade-union representation as an antidote against possible separate agreements in the future (the law should preclude the signing of agreements with general validity by insufficiently representative unions).

5. Industrial action

The National Institute of Statistics (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica, ISTAT) has not yet published the official figures on industrial conflict for the year 2009. Last year was certainly characterized by a significant number of strikes largely caused by the decisions of several companies to close plants in Italy as part of their restructuring plans.

The most important conflict of 2009 was at the Fiat plant of Termini Imerese (still ongoing) caused by the decision of the Turin parent company to discontinue car production at the Sicilian site. From the month of July onwards, the workforce organised a series of protest actions against the decision and also to induce arbitration of the dispute by the local and national institutions.

Other significant protests took place at Indesit against the closure of its None plant (province of Turin), which concluded positively with an agreement (in July) guaranteeing production and employment levels; at Tenaris Dalmine against the company’s industrial restructuring plan; at Carrefour Italia for renewal of the group’s supplementary agreement (then unilaterally rescinded by the company in September).

In 2009 nation-wide general strikes were only proclaimed by Cgil, such as that one of April 4 to protest against the government’s inertia in tackling the economic crisis with suitable measures (IT0905029I). For the same reason, only Fiom-Cgil and the Cgil-affiliated Public Service Union announced a strike in the month of February. Against the eventuality of a possible separate deal on the metalworkers’ agreement, the Fiom-Cgil held an 8-hours strike on 9 October (on 15 October the agreement was signed without Fiom).

No legislation was introduced during 2009 to regulate the right to strike. The year was characterised by the increasing tendency to attract the attention of the media and public opinion by organising more visible forms of protest (such as climbing industrial cranes hundreds of metres high). Similar episodes became increasingly frequent during the year.

6. Restructuring

According to OECD figures, in recent years unemployment in Italy has constantly grown: 6.7% in 2008, 8.2% in 2009, and for 2010 the forecast is 8.7%. The main causes are the economic crisis and corporate restructurings.

One of the most important restructurings (as mentioned above) is that announced by Fiat (IT0905019I) of its Sicilian plant at Termini Imerese, which has around 1400 employees, added to which are 700 workers at subcontracting firms. The dispute has induced intervention by local (Sicilian regional government) and national (Ministry of Economic Development) institutions.

Another significant corporate restructuring is that at Electrolux, where in May an agreement was reached on 309 redundancies at the Porcia plant (in Veneto). In December the Marazzi group (ceramics sector) announced that it was placing 1740 employees on the extraordinary wages guarantee fund.

A sector particularly hard hit in 2009 by corporate restructurings was telecommunications. In July, Telecom, the largest Italian telecommunications group, reached an agreement with the sectoral trade unions to convert 470 redundancies into 1054 job-security agreement (IT0908019I). In March, the Swedish multinational Ericsson signed an agreement with the unions on incentives for voluntary redundancies. Of opposite outcome were negotiations with the Italian group Eutelia, which employs more than 2500 workers and which in December was placed in receivership (not having paid wages for months).

7. Impact of economic downturn

The data on the crisis for 2009 have been particularly alarming. The National Social Security Institute (Istituto Nazionale Previdenza Sociale, INPS) authorized 918 million hours of redundancy pay from the wages guarantee fund, a 311% increase on 2008. Added to these were the around 700,000 precarious workers whose contracts were not renewed, and other job losses.

For these reasons, a number of measures were adopted to tackle the emergency. The most important of them (for the quantity of resources appropriated and the number of people involved) was undoubtedly the introduction of a system of social shock absorbers in ‘derogation’ from the normal instruments (ordinary and extraordinary wages guarantee funds, availability list and unemployment benefits). This innovation came about through a series of normative provisions devised with the active involvement of the social partners: in January the Law 2/2009 entitled “Misure urgenti per il sostegno a famiglie, lavoro, occupazione e impresa e per ridisegnare in funzione anti-crisi il quadro strategico nazionale” (Urgent Measures to Support Families, Work, Employment and Firms and to Revise the National Strategic Framework to Combat the Crisis) was approved. This was followed by bilateral agreements between the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the Regions on defining the criteria for access to the social shock absorbers ‘in derogation’ during 2009-2010 (the resources were allocated for those two years). Then, with the purpose of operationalizing the contents of the previous agreements, signed (in May) were the framework agreements between the Regions and the social partners (of that Region). The innovations are the extensions of the wages guarantee fund (in the case of lay-offs) and mobility allowances (following dismissals due to company crises) to enterprises previously excluded: industrial firms with fewer than 15 employees, commercial ones with fewer than 50 employees, crafts firms, and cooperatives. Consequently, employees at such firms on open-ended and/or fixed-term contracts, including leased workers (temporary-employment agency work), home workers and members of cooperatives, are eligible for income support. Such support is conditional on attendance by the workers concerned on vocational retraining courses.

8. Other relevant developments

No other relevant developments in industrial relations are reported for 2009.

Livio Muratore, Fondazione Pietro Seveso, Italy

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