Government and unions reach agreement for public sector
In February 2002, the Italian government and trade unions reached a general framework accord on the forthcoming renewal of national collective agreements for public sector workers. The agreement meets most trade union demands. Average wage increases have been set at 5.56% for 2002-3 and it has been established that collective bargaining takes precedence over legislation in the regulation of employment conditions.
On the night of 4-5 February 2002, after 10 hours of negotiations, the government and trade unions reached a procedural agreement for the renewal of the national collective agreements for the 3.5 million employees in the public sector.
In the preceding months, the trade unions had called numerous strikes in the public sector (IT0111101N and IT0111102N) and had organised another for 15 February in protest against the perceived low level of funding for the new public sector agreement in the government's 2002 budget law (IT0110103N). The budget provided for an overall wage increase of 4.53% over 2002 and 2003, while the unions demanded an increase of 6%.
The new agreement provides for the government to pay EUR 600 million more than laid down in the budget law, in order to guarantee public sector workers an average increase of 5.56% for 2002-3. In the forthcoming national bargaining for the individual parts of the public sector, part of this increase must be used to encourage service efficiency and productivity. The average monthly wage increase for ministry employees will be EUR 101 and for school personnel EUR 109.
The agreement conforms fully with the tripartite national agreement of 23 July 1993 on incomes policy and the collective bargaining system. The public sector accord clearly establishes that collective bargaining, rather than legislation, must govern matters concerning public sector employment conditions. It provides that the government will issue a directive to all ministries requiring that all existing policies on the regulation and organisation of labour, or policies currently under discussion, must be blocked and collective bargaining must take their place. The same principle will be adopted with regard to a bill before parliament regarding the regulation of employment relationships for managers in the public sector: the entire matter will be resolved through collective bargaining.
The agreement recognises the consultative role of trade unions in the reform of the public administration and provides for the creation of permanent groups in which the social partners can discuss the following matters:
- reform of public bodies as foreseen in the 2002 budget law;
- outsourcing of services;
- definition of efficiency, economic and quality parameters for public services;
- organisational reform of the government and public bodies; and
- reform of state schools.
Negotiations will focus on the possible effects these reforms will have on working conditions and on employment levels.
Under the terms of the February pact, a negotiating forum will be established to discuss social insurance in the public sector. The social partners must establish (according to the specific characteristics of each part of the public sector) the procedures necessary to make it possible to use accruing end-of-service allowance s (Trattamento di fine rapporto, Tfr - a portion of a worker's pay set aside by the employer and then paid as a lump sum at the end of the employment relationship) to contribute to private supplementary pension insurance. The government has already decided to introduce this new use of the Tfr in the private sector (IT0201277F). Furthermore, the current legislation banning workers from receiving both a public sector wage and a private pension will be abolished.
With regard to local bargaining (following the conclusion of the national agreements for the various parts of the public sector), the government has agreed to modify an aspect of the 2002 budget law which had caused particular controversy. The budget law had allowed the government to annul any pay increases agreed in local public administrations which it regarded as excessive in the light of economic constraints. The new agreement now makes it impossible for the government to intervene in this way and gives full autonomy to the social partners in local bargaining. Local public administrations will be able to negotiate pay increases, on condition that their budget constraints allow them.
The trade unions are particularly satisfied with the the new agreement. Guglielmo Epifani, the deputy general secretary of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), claimed that the agreement demonstrates that the trade unions' united front had pressurised the government into changing direction in some aspects of the budget law. Savino Pezzotta, the general secretary of the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl), underlined the positive outcome of the agreement and stated that it will help negotiations in other areas (such as on the problems of Southern Italy). Luigi Angeletti, the general secretary of the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil), stated that the agreement can act as a means of improving the current fragile and tense relationship between the government and the unions.
The government is also satisfied. The deputy prime minister, Gian Franco Fini, who oversaw the negotiations, declared that 'if there are no political and ideological prejudices, dialogue can produce important results for everybody and, ultimately, lead to a policy of reform which is socially acceptable.'
However, Antonio D'Amato, president of the Confindustria employers' confederation, was very critical of the agreement because he considers that it will cause excessive economic difficulties for public finances.