Dispute and talks over sectoral agreement for telecommunications

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In February 2000, after the privatisation of the Italian state-owned telecommunications company, Telecom Italia, and the liberalisation of the telecoms market, the process of reorganising Italy's main telecoms company has started, with the planned loss of 13,000 jobs. Meanwhile, talks have begun over a new single agreement for the whole sector.

The Telecom group has recently been privatised and a majority of its shares bought by Olivetti, backed by a group of business interests led by the former Olivetti managing director, Roberto Colaninno. The group includes companies such as Telecom Italia (fixed-line telephones), Tim (mobile telephones), Tin.it (one of the main Italian internet service providers) and Telespazio (satellite communications), and employs about 100,000 workers.

In January 2000, Telecom presented a reorganisation plan which provides for 13,500 redundancies. The trade unions reacted to the proposals with an eight-hour strike across the group on 4 February, and held demonstrations on the same day in Naples and Milan, in which about 10,000 people took part. The unions are seeking a discussion with Telecom on reorganisation plan, around a platform of demands which includes:

  • enlarging the company's "core business", which is seen as including the development of networks, the multimedia sector, information technology, space equipment and satellite communications;
  • developing telecommunications in the South of Italy and enhancing the company's technological development and activities there;
  • defining the activities that can be outsourced, excluding all activities linked to production and customer-related activities, especially customer care and technical assistance;
  • building an industrial relations system based on workers' participation, which provides for both central structures and decentralised structures at regional and local level;
  • defining, on the basis of industrial policy criteria, which are the appropriate bodies to implement the reorganisation plan; and
  • excluding any kind of unilateral management initiatives towards workers.

The unions do not accept the logic that has led Telecom to plan redundancies, and are willing to tackle problems relating to employment levels only after having agreed with the company's industrial policy decisions.

Telecom management declared itself willing to find alternative solutions in the light of the proposals put forward by the trade unions. Negotiations were scheduled for the beginning of March 2000, in order to lay the basis for an agreement.

While the Telecom dispute has been taking place, the social partners have started negotiations over a first national collective agreement for the whole telecoms sector (TN9912201S). Previously, when the sector was a state monopoly, employment relationships were regulated by the Telecom Italia company agreement. Now, with the liberalisation of the sector, some new companies entering the market from outside still apply to employees working in telecoms their existing agreements. For example, Omnitel (a telecoms company created by Olivetti and now controlled by the German-based Mannesmann) applies the metalworking agreement, while Wind (a company controlled by Enel, the state-owned electricity generation and distribution company) applies a special agreement agreed with the union confederations.

The difficulties in concluding a new sectoral agreement for telecoms are caused by the lack of a previous agreement, the variety of the subsectors to be regulated by a single agreement, and the differences in existing conditions in the various companies. There are also difficulties relating to employer and employee representation. Notably, the Confindustria employers' confederation has not yet created an association to represent the sector's companies. The negotiations are therefore being conducted directly by Confindustria on the employers' side and, on the union side, by both the sectoral trade unions - Slc-Cgil, Fistel-Cisl and Uilte-Uil- and by the three main union confederations - Cgil, Cisl and Uil.

Industrial relations, job classification and working time have been the first items on the agenda during the initial meetings. Negotiations are nevertheless hindered by the ongoing Telecom dispute, which involves the sector's most important company. Fulvio Giacomassi, general secretary of Fistel-Cisl, is very cautious: "we have started the negotiations for the signature of a national collective agreement for the whole telecommunications sector but we confirm our concerns about [Telecom's] employment problems, which are still an open issue, and which could postpone the signature of such agreement."

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