Participation and collective bargaining in Italian enterprises

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During the 1990s, the tendencies within Italian enterprises towards a greater participation of workers and their representatives have become more pronounced. This has applied to direct, economic/financial and institutional participation, and here we review recent developments, focusing on the second and third types of participation.

Direct or "workplace" participation (partecipazione professionale) has traditionally been relatively widespread in small and medium-sized enterprises in the industrial districts of the so-called "third Italy" (local economies characterised by small firms working in cooperation and specialising in one area of production). However, forms of teamworking and "non-Tayloristic" work organisation increasingly concern both large public companies (such as Italtel and Telecom Italia), but also major private ones (such as Fiat and Zanussi), which in the past were characterised by assembly-line work. Our focus here is on economic/financial participation (partecipazione economica) and institutional participation (partecipazione istituzionale), which have also tended to develop, thanks to the provisions on social dialogue both at the "macro" central level and at the "micro" decentralised level, which were included in the central tripartite agreement of 23 July 1993.

Economic participation

The July 1993 agreement provided for a new framework for Italian collective bargaining, comprising both national sectoral collective bargaining and second-level bargaining at company or, as an alternative, territorial level. Company or territorial agreements have a four-year duration and may cover matters that are "different and non-repetitive" with regard to the pay elements set out in first-level industry-wide agreements. This means that the pay provisions of second-level agreements are limited to bonuses linked to productivity, quality and profitability objectives. These provisions form the basis for the recent development of economic participation.

An analysis of company agreements signed since 1993 allows only a preliminary evaluation to be drawn up of this transitional phase, but efforts to adapt to the new rules can be discerned. Thus, alongside the long-standing production bonuses (renamed "productivity bonuses") or the traditional bonuses awarded for individual or collective attendance at work, there is also a variety of new measures. These include both "hybrid" measures, which could be considered typical of a transitional phase, and the creation of new "payment-by-results" schemes genuinely linked to improvements in quality, efficiency and company profits. These latter measures can be placed within the context of the "development of programmes agreed between the partners", in accordance with the provisions of the July 1993 central agreement.

With regard to bargaining over wage increases linked to company results, the 1993 central agreement provided for specific legal measures to define the way in which these new elements of pay would be treated in terms of social security contributions. Such special treatment would be similar to that afforded in other countries - to profit-sharing in Anglo-Saxon countries, or to intéressement(pay related to company performance) in France. In the initial draft, these legal measures provided for relief from social security contributions on pay linked to results (with the savings used to finance occupational pension schemes), up to a maximum of 1% of the average annual pay set by collective bargaining. In the most recent version of the legal measures, which are currently under approval, the 1% limit - which was considered insufficient by employers and trade unions - has been increased to 2% until the end of 1998. From 1999, the Ministry of Labour, through a decree to be drafted jointly with the Ministry of Treasury, could further increase the upper limit to 3%, as foreseen by the July 1993 agreement.

Institutional participation

In terms of institutional participation, the July 1993 tripartite agreement expresses support (although not in a formalised way and in very general terms) for the participatory model of industrial relations within companies - as implemented in Italy through "procedures of information, consultation, verification or bargaining provided for by laws, collective agreements and bargaining practices" - in order to control the impact on employment and working conditions of technological innovation and company restructuring and reorganisation.

A third phase of development of the Italian model of participation thus began in the 1990s - by means of collective bargaining - following the disclosure of information provisions introduced by industry-wide bargaining during the mid-1970s, and the consultation rights implemented through joint committees in many Italian enterprises in the 1980s. This new step was characterised by the assignment of "deliberating" powers - that is, the possibility of taking majority decisions on specific issues - to joint committees, which previously had only a consultative role.

The experience at the white goods producer, Zanussi (part of the Electrolux group), has been the most symbolic and forward-looking, and has influenced other cases including that at FIAT's Melfi plant. At Zanussi, which already had a variety of participatory practices in operation, a supplementary group collective agreement (covering all Electrolux companies in Italy), signed at the end of 1995, entrusted a "guarantee committee" on disputes, instituted in December 1993, with the task of drafting a single text on participation in Zanussi. The supplementary agreement provided for: a "supervision board" for discussing strategic issues between trade unions and management; a "special joint labour-management committee" to promote innovative forms of work organisation, skills and training; and highly decentralised negotiations on working hours and pay linked to results, productivity and quality. At the end of 1996, failure to reach an agreement on a development plan for the Zanussi group led to suspension of this participation model. However, later contacts between trade unions and management reopened talks on the redefinition of the participation model and, in particular, the redrafting of the comprehensive single text on participation.

The most important recent proposal in the area of company-level institutional participation is currently under discussion between trade unions and Finmeccanica, the IRI state-participation group's aeronautical, energy and transport holding company. The proposal is for a "consultative committee" without bargaining powers, with the role of examining the competitive situation of the group's companies. The committee would be made up of top-level management and national industry trade union leaders (from the metalworking unions Fim, Fiom and Uilm). The agreement would create special "area committees" with decentralised bargaining powers, including in the areas of "restructuring, reorganisation and reconversion processes and also crisis and mobility". Finally, during the validity of company agreements, a special "commission for dispute prevention " chaired by a "third party", expert in labour law, would have decision-making powers in disputes, which would be binding on company and trade union representatives.


Many people have emphasised that the difficulties inherent in implementation of the participatory model - not only in the case of Zanussi but also in other Italian companies - stem, above all, from the fact that the July 1993 national agreement, despite supporting this model, does not introduce any enforcement mechanisms or laws. These are now deemed necessary both by company managements and the majority of trade unions, and this will be one of the main points that will be covered by the joint assessment of the July 1993 agreement which is planned for summer 1997. In particular, the social partners and Ministry of Labour seem to share a general consensus on the need for legislation on trade union "representativeness", though the debate continues on the details. The basic idea is for legislation which would grant "representativeness" - ie, the right to sign collective agreements - to unions obtaining the majority of votes in works council elections, thus excluding minor independent unions. This legislation would refer only to union activities such as works council elections and collective bargaining, and would not attempt to introduce procedural requirements, such as registration, for unions. The aim would be to reduce union fragmentation and "free-riding" by minor unions, and to differentiate consultation activities from collective bargaining to a greater extent, making participation in industrial relations more formalised. (Serafino Negrelli, University of Brescia)

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