New collective agreement reached for telecommunications sector

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In December 2005, trade unions and employers in the Italian telecommunications sector signed a draft collective agreement for the 2005-8 period. The industry's 120,000 workers will now be asked to approve the new agreement in workplace assemblies. The deal introduces numerous changes, notably an extension of its coverage to include call-centre companies and the introduction of new rules on subcontracting and outsourcing. Both sides have expressed their satisfaction with the draft agreement, although worries have been voiced concerning the issue of market regulation and the role of the Guarantee Authority for Telecommunications.

On 3 December 2005, trade unions and employers signed a draft deal on renewal of the collective agreement for the telecommunications sector. Around 120,000 workers are covered by the draft deal, which covers the period 2005-8 and was reached by Assotelecomunicazioni (Asstel), the newly-formed telecommunications employers’ association affiliated to Confindustria, and the sectoral federations of the three largest trade union confederations - the Communications Workers’ Union (Sindacato dei lavoratori della comunicazione, Slc-Cgil), the Information, Entertainment and Telecommunications Workers’ Union (Federazione Informazione Spettacolo e Telecomunicazione, Fistel-Cisl) and the Italian Communications Workers’ Union (Unione Italiana dei lavoratori della comunicazione, Uilcom-Uil).

The deal, which was to be submitted for approval to workplace assemblies by 20 January 2006, constitutes the second national collective agreement for the telecommunications sector. Until a few years ago, the public monopoly exercised by Telecom Italia (formerly SIP) meant that industrial relations in the communications sector needed only to be regulated at company level. During the 1990s, however, with the privatisation of Telecom Italia and liberalisation, the market entry of new actors led both employers and unions to believe that specific regulation of the sector was necessary. As a consequence, in June 2000 a first collective agreement was signed for the industry, which was seen as having an innovative impact on Italian industrial relations (IT0003147N and IT0007158F).

The new telecommunications agreement was reached almost a year after the old one expired. Negotiations on the new agreement were not always straightforward and sometimes involved conflict. On 3 November 2005, Slc, Fistel and Uilcom held a national strike which, according to the unions, was joined by 80% of workers (another strike was held in June). The aim of the strike was to have the new agreement include: measures to ensure greater protection of workers’ rights (less precarious employment, more qualification benefits, new job classifications and stronger trade union rights); and wage increments appropriate to a sector undergoing intense growth (the unions requested a monthly wage increase of EUR 115 for mid-level workers, while the employers offered EUR 58).

The agreement reached in December was nevertheless characterised by the collaborative approach adopted by the negotiators, and it confirmed the sector’s innovative tradition, especially as regards the 'normative' (ie non-pay) part of the agreement.

Innovative features of the agreement

The deal awards large pay rises, with an average monthly increase of EUR 96 (EUR 60 to be paid from 1 January 2006 and the remainder from 1 October 2006) and a one-off payment of EUR 500 to cover the period without a collective agreement. The new agreement also contains important 'normative' provisions, as follows.

  • Coverage. The agreement’s coverage is extended to include the call-centre firms to which telecommunications companies outsource work, companies providing web services, and firms providing digital and multimedia services.
  • Job classification. The job classification system has been revised by defining new job profiles in administration, customer care, technical assistance, the web area and information technology. During the first two months of 2006, a committee will define further job profiles for information technology design, research, network and remote activities.
  • Contracts. The agreement deals with various forms of employment contract, but introduces no new types of contract:
    • fixed-term contracts. The agreement incorporates the grounds permitting the use of fixed-term contracts laid down in the accord on the issue reached by the EU-level social partners on 18 March 1999 (EU9901147F and EU9903162N). Workers on such contracts may represent an annual maximum of 13% (extendable to 15% in the South) of a company’s permanent workforce. The social partners at company level may raise these maximum percentages by up to an additional five percentage points;
    • part-time contracts. The agreement provides for closer regulation of flexible part-time work and overtime by part-timers, and tightens the rules on changeovers from full-time to part-time work and on the right of part-time workers to be given precedence for full-time vacancies;
    • work-entry contracts (formerly work/training contracts, IT0307204F). The agreement incorporates the provisions of an interconfederal agreement of 11 February 2004 by increasing the amount of training provision and restricting the duration of 're-entry' contracts to nine months; and
    • professional apprenticeships (IT0307204F). Regulation of this employment relationship - which ministerial circular no. 30 of 2005 refers to collective bargaining - is one of the agreement’s most innovative features. Indeed, this is one of the first collective agreements specifically to define the arrangement. Among the various measures introduced, the duration of an apprenticeship is restricted to 36 months for a graduate, 48 months for an upper-secondary school leaver and 54 months for a lower-secondary school leaver. Training provision must amount to average of 120 hours a year, and this type of contract can only be used if 70% of previous apprentices have been recruited.
  • Training. The most important points with regard to training concern the inclusion in the agreement of rights for workers to training and study for 160 and 150 hours a year respectively, and the creation of a joint training body, one of whose tasks will be to liaise with Fondimpresa, the intersectoral fund for continuing training (IT0202103F).
  • Working time. The average amount of work will be calculated over a reference period of six months, which may be extended to 12 months by agreement with the unitary workplace union structure (Rappresentenza sindacale unitaria, Rsu) (IT0309304T). The rest period between two shifts is increased to at least 11 hours (from the previous eight). Included for the first time in a national collective agreement is a definition of night work. Quarterly restrictions on overtime are removed and are replaced by an annual limit.
  • Subcontracting and organisational changes. In order to combat forms of undeclared or irregular work, contracting companies must include clauses in their contracts that comply with the laws on social security and workplace health and injury insurance. Contracting and outsourcing arrangements must come under the national telecommunications sector agreement as regards activities that fall within its range of application (which has been extended by the new agreement - see above).
  • Industrial relations. The information rights of Rsus on the above and other matters - for example, organisational changes with an impact on employment, training, job classifications and working hours - have been strengthened by the introduction of 'in-house meetings' (incontri in sede aziendale). The role of trade unions has been further enhanced by the creation of two national joint committees, one dealing with equal opportunities, the other with issues concerning the environment and workplace safety.

Reactions

Trade unions and employers have assessed the agreement in very positive terms, stating that it combines organisational flexibility, protection for workers, productivity and wage increases. Emilio Miceli, secretary of Slc-Cgil, has praised the deal because it addresses the 'wage problem', gives greater transparency to subcontracting arrangements and 'has shunned many of the odious provisions of law 30 on the labour market' (IT0307204F). For the secretary of Uilcom-Uil, Bruno Di Cola, it is an 'important achievement that relaunches the unions’ negotiating role in strengthening workers’ rights'. The employers are also satisfied: for Pietro Guindani, the chair of Asstel and managing director of Vodafone Italia, the deal has been made possible by the desire of all parties to create the conditions for the sector’s continuing growth. For Asstel, the next task is 'to unify all the employers’ associations in the telecommunications sector in order to foster the spread of contracts and competitiveness among their associated companies'.

By contrast, the Minister of Welfare, Roberto Maroni, has expressed regret at the 'desire of the parties to reduce flexibility' by not including in the agreement some of the flexible instruments made available by the recent law reforming the labour market.

Regulation of the telecommunications market

In parallel with the renewal of the national collective agreement for the sector, in recent months attention has focused on regulation of the market in which telecommunications companies operate. The liberalisation process that began in the second half of the 1990s does not seem to have altered substantially the monopolistic position of the largest Italian telecommunications company (Telecom Italia). Moreover, the Guarantee Authority for Telecommunications (Autorità per le Garanzie nella Comunicazione) - one of whose tasks is to guarantee competition in the market - is under criticism for at least two reasons. The first concerns its ability to enforce its decisions effectively (in the telephony and audiovisual sectors under its authority). The second concerns the way in which the Authority is financed. According to the 2006 budget law (at present before parliament for approval), the funds received by the Authority to finance its activities in 2006 will be exclusively of corporate origin, while the system of mixed financing envisaged by its statute (some funds provided by companies but the majority by the state) will be scrapped. This could produce a conflict of interest, because the Authority will be financed by the very companies that it is supposed to control, and Telecom Italia, the company accused of exercising a monopoly, would be the main source of the Authority’s funding. Moreover, greater competition in Italy’s telecommunications sector has been urged in the latest issue of the Economic Outlook published by the International Monetary Fund.

Commentary

The telecommunications sector has a number of features that distinguish it sharply from the other Italian industrial sectors: its constant evolution (broadband, new wireless connection technologies, fixed-mobile convergence and new services like digital voice and television via internet); its strong growth (Telecom Italia alone earns EUR 47.8 billion a year or 3.75% of Italian GDP); and the distinctive nature of the services provided (24 hours a day for 365 days a year). One consequence of the sector’s uniqueness is that, contrary to what some commentators maintain, the new telecommunications collective agreement cannot be used as a model for other renewals on which difficult negotiations are at present taking place, for example over the metalworking agreement (IT0509205F).

As regards the contents of the agreement, of particular importance are the extension of its coverage to include call-centre companies and the new rules on subcontracting and outsourcing. These measures may impose some sort of order on an area (that of call centres) which is increasingly attracting the attention of trade unions at European level as well (EU0512203N) because it is still under-regulated. The new measures should bring the closer involvement of unions and greater workforce participation in the restructuring and the outsourcing of certain activities. Also of great importance are the measures intended to increase the protection of 'non-standard' workers.

At the same time, however, the agreement gives companies the greater organisational flexibility that they require by strengthening some contractual arrangements (such as part-time work), allowing the use of overtime on an annual basis, introducing a new regulation of working hours and increasing apprenticeship contracts.

Although closely conditioned by the sector’s good economic performance, the new telecommunications agreement confirms the usefulness of a collaborative approach in industrial relations to reach 'win-win' solutions where each side achieves its priority goals.

Companies and workers in the telecommunications sector should now concentrate on the issue of regulating the market, effectively liberalising the sector and strengthening the role and independence of the Guarantee Authority, including by means of financial solutions more viable than those proposed by the 2006 budget law. (Edoardo Della Torre, Ires Lombardia)

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