Social concertation and labour market policies in Lombardy

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July 2002 saw the approval of a set of labour market projects drawn up jointly by the government of Italy's Lombardy region, the regional social partners and other local organisations, under a 'Pact for the development of the economy, work, quality and social cohesion in Lombardy' signed in September 2001. The projects include the provision of services to workers employed on non-standard contracts, support for immigrant workers, initiatives to improve the labour market situation of women, and initiatives to increase workplace health and safety.

On 15 July 2002, the 'estates general of Lombard economy, labour and society' (Stati Generali dell'economia, del lavoro e della società lombarda) - a body which brings together representatives from employer' associations, trade unions, consumers' associations and non-profit organisations in the Lombardy region - unanimously approved a set of regional labour market policy projects. These projects were drawn up on the basis of social concertation and dialogue, in accordance with the 'Pact for the development of the economy, work, quality and social cohesion in Lombardy' (Patto per lo sviluppo dell'economia, del lavoro, della qualità e della coesione sociale in Lombardia) signed on 19 September 2001 (IT0109101N). The Pact was promoted by the regional administration, the Lombardy chambers of commerce and regional employers' associations and trade union organisations, and numerous consumers' associations and non-profit organisations have signed up it.

The 'estates general' is one of the bodies introduced by the Pact to support and develop social partnership, and provides a specific forum for discussion among social partners, associations and the regional government. It is made up of the president of the regional administration, regional councillors, the president of Unioncamere Lombardia (the association of Lombard chambers of commerce), the presidents of the regional employers' associations, the regional secretaries of the trade unions, and representatives of the other organisations that have signed the Pact. The 'estates general' normally meets at least twice a year, acting as the forum for social concertation on devising strategies for economic and social development and employment growth in Lombardy. Moreover, the body approves decisions reached through concertation and conducts joint monitoring of actions taken under the provisions of the Pact.

The projects

The projects approved by the 'estates general' during its meeting in July 2002 were developed through discussion between the social partners. The key projects are as follows.

University courses

A number of university master's degree courses in active labour market policies will be created, dedicated to Marco Biagi, the labour law academic and government consultant murdered by the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse) in March 2002 (IT0203108N).

Non-standard work

A set of services related to new forms of 'non-standard' work, such as casual work and 'freelance work coordinated by an employer' (IT0011273F), will be put in place. These services comprise:

  • individualised training courses to enhance the employability of workers involved in new forms of employment by developing and upgrading specific skills;
  • counselling and training services to equip workers with the ability to plan their own careers and professional growth;
  • services to match the supply of and demand for new forms of employment; and
  • concerted initiatives to foster entrepreneurship among people working on non-standard contracts.

Quantitative and qualitative monitoring of the spread and characteristics of new forms of employment will accompany and support all the initiatives in this project, helping to devise and 'fine-tune' the measures.

Immigrant workers

Initiatives will seek to enhance the contribution to the local economy of non-EU immigrant workers through the 'regularisation' of irregular work. These include:

  • the delivery of vocational training linked with the regularisation and stabilisation of employment relationships;
  • the promotion of initiatives to enhance the match between labour supply and demand, with particular regard to non-EU immigrant workers, including providing assistance with the bureaucratic procedures required to hire foreign labour;
  • assistance with labour regularisation procedures defined by law (IT0209103F);
  • initiatives designed to foster the social and cultural integration of non-EU immigrant workers, while recognising their cultures of origin, and schemes to facilitate the reuniting of immigrant families and the school entry of immigrant children, as well as the promotion of women's rights;
  • an extraordinary programme to tackle the problem of housing, which is particularly serious for non-EU immigrants, who often find it extremely difficult to find suitable accommodation;
  • the promotion of entrepreneurial activities by non-EU immigrant workers, with the support of the social partners and the chambers of commerce, the aim being to combat irregular work; and
  • a pilot scheme to facilitate the regularisation of, and provide support for, immigrants employed in domestic care activities.

The project will be accompanied by analysis of irregular work among immigrants in Lombardy, and by a study of best practices to support labour market entry by non-EU immigrants.

Women

Actions and services centred on the labour market situation of women in Lombardy include:

  • continuing training schemes, also for self-employed women. For example, specific training schemes may be organised for women (and men) returning to work after a period of leave, or to combat vertical and horizontal segregation in the workplace;
  • support for female entrepreneurship, the aim being to foster the creation of new businesses; and
  • actions aimed at eliminating the structural factors that impede the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities - such measures include company crèches, aid for female employment, incentives for flexible and diversified working hours or the use of forms of telework. A forum or a permanent observatory may be set up to monitor these actions, and in order to disseminate good practices and foster innovation.

This project will be accompanied by a study on female employment and on the situation of services to households. A permanent observatory on these issues may be created.

Safety

A set of initiatives will seek to improve workplace safety in Lombardy, within the framework of the recent 'federalist' reform of the Italian Constitution which transfers certain powers in this and other areas to regional governments.

Implementation

After approval by the 'estates general', responsibility for the development and implementation of these projects now passes to 'thematic groups' (Tavoli tematici), which have been established within the regional administration departments responsible for the various topics. The thematic groups are part of the Lombard social partnership system and have the task of jointly defining the contents of initiatives. These various projects are scheduled to start in the autumn of 2002. A major source of funding should be the European Union, in particular the European Social Fund.

Position of the social partners

The president of the Lombardy regional government, Roberto Formigoni, has stressed the commitment of his centre-right administration to the social partnership method, which it considers innovative and typical of the 'Lombardy model'. The Lombardy region, according to Mr Formigoni, intends to: increase the employability of workers, especially women; regulate immigration so that it matches the needs of the labour market and thereby prevent forms of social hardship; strike a balance between flexibility and protection in new forms of employment; and increase workplace safety.

The social partners have expressed their appreciation of the work accomplished under the Lombard pact, but also some criticisms. Cgil Lombardia, the Lombardy regional organisation of the General Confederation of Italian workers (Confederazione Generale Italian del Lavoro, Cgil), is of the opinion that the concerted local planning envisaged by the pact has not been fully realised. Moreover, according to Cgil, some decisions taken by the regional administration conflict with the objectives set by social concertation and pursued through the projects approved by the 'estates general'. It refers here to regional policies for public services which, in Cgil's view, assign a central role to the family and therefore contradict the commitment to promoting female employment.

The Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione italiana sindacato lavoratori, Cisl) has declared itself satisfied with the outcomes of the pact, but has called for further efforts, proposing in particular that the social partners should hold talks to define a regional system of protection for workers on non-standard contracts (especially freelance work coordinated by an employer) which gives greater guarantees to workers and employers. According to Cisl Lombardia, such a system should comprise a set of bipartite bodies, set up and administered by the social partners, and specific regional legislation which provides the necessary funding for these bodies.

Commentary

The progress of social concertation in Lombardy raises a number of points concerning the regional situation and its relationships with the national situation.

As regards the social partnership system which the Lombard regional administration is committed to creating, the social partners - and especially trade unions - seem somewhat unhappy with the predominant role assumed by the regional administration, as this may restrict the scope of their involvement in designing initiatives. Their dissatisfaction seems to be due to the fact that not all matters of interest to the social partners are discussed within the system of social concertation, with a view to reaching shared solutions. Despite these problems, however, all parties confirm their commitment to implementing the 2001 pact and, as demonstrated by the projects approved in July 2002, the first significant results have been achieved. This outcome confirms the usefulness of dialogue when both sides recognise the need for a functioning system of concertation, regardless of the disagreements on particular issues and objectives that are almost inevitable when labour representatives deal with political representatives.

The most interesting aspect of the Lombardy system, however, is its possible connection with the development of a local system of labour regulation within the framework of the recent amendments to the Constitution, whereby employment policy powers have been transferred to the regional governments. Although the possible extent of this 'regionalisation' is not yet clear, the social partners and the regional administrations are aware of the new role that they may come to play and are beginning to make their first moves. The projects approved by the Lombard 'estates general' do not have consequences for labour regulation in the strict sense, at least for the time being, but the social partners have made explicit reference to the new powers granted to the regional administrations by the constitutional reform, and Cisl's proposal to set up a system to protect non-standard workers in Lombardy is a concrete move in this direction. Much will depend on the attitudes of the various representative organisations. Cisl, for example, leans more towards local-level regulation and bargaining, while Cgil argues that a nationwide regulatory and bargaining framework should be kept in place, particularly as regards the central role of national sectoral collective agreements.

In Lombardy, as in the other regions of Italy, local labour regulation must operate through regional legislation, so that the attitudes and choices of the regional administrations will be decisive. In any event, the fragmentation of labour regulation on a territorial basis could prove a crucial challenge for Italy's industrial relations system, calling some of its fundamental components into question, and primarily the role of industry-wide bargaining. (Roberto Pedersini, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso)

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