35-hour week agreed at Wam

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An agreement was signed in December 1997 by management and trade unions at the Italian metalworking company Wam, covering flexibility, continuing training and cuts in working hours to 35 hours a week for shiftworkers.

Wam, based in Modena (in the North of Italy), is a company with 220 employees which produces filters and valves for the treatment and transportation of dust in industrial plants. The firm operates in a highly competitive market and relies heavily on its productive capacity to meet market demand.

On 4 December 1997 Wam signed an agreement with the metalworking sector trade unions, setting up a "time savings account" which allows the company to have each worker available for an extra 80 working hours a year. Under the scheme, management can request workers to work up to five hours a week on top of their ordinary working hours. Overtime worked can be recuperated by workers through paid time off in lieu to be used up throughout the year. The company's aim is to meet growing market demand.

For shiftworkers, who at present work 37.5 hours a week, the total number of flexible hours has been set at 25 hours a year, and their weekly hours will decrease to 35 hours from 1 January 1999.

The agreement also provides for a programme of continuing training for workers which will take place over a five-year period and include a total of 150 hours per capita. Workers who take part in training courses will receive ITL 3 million, divided into yearly instalments of ITL 280,000, and will receive a further sum of ITL 1,600,000 on the satisfactory conclusion of the course.

The agreement also provides for a pay bonus linked to the company's performance: as soon as the company reaches the required productivity levels and quality standards in production, workers will each receive ITL 2 million. Wam, which took on 30 workers over 1997, is set to invest ITL 15 billion in the next two years.

The Wam agreement has been warmly received by the social partners. In their opinion, it demonstrates that the reduction of working hours is possible and effective only if it is managed through a process of bargaining and social dialogue, and not when it is imposed on social partners by law, as the Italian Government apparently intends to do following its commitment to the Rifondazione Comunista party in order to overcome the political crisis in October 1997 (IT9711216F).

Sergio D'Antoni, general secretary of Cisl trade union confederation declared that the reduction of working hours by law is "devastating, wrong and substitutes for the autonomy of the social partners". The general director of Confindustria employers' confederation, Innocenzo Cipolletta, said that employers are not against "making a reduction in the working hours in individual cases, as in fact is happening in some firms" (quoted in Il Sole 24 Ore of 7 December 1997).

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