New rules on representativeness and bargaining in the public sector

Download article in original language : IT9709311FIT.DOC

On 5 August 1997, the Italian Government approved a draft decree-law regulating trade union representativeness and collective bargaining in the public sector. This draft decree-law introduces a number of innovations into industrial relations in the public sector by establishing rules for ascertaining representativeness, and introducing the measures necessary for activating "second-level" bargaining. On representativeness, the new measure fills a legislative vacuum created in 1995.

The context

For some time, the Italian Government has been reforming the rules regulating public administration, in order to increase its efficiency. As part of this process, on 12 March 1997 an agreement was signed between Government and trade unions concerning the employment relationship of public sector workers. The main points relate to: mobility; training; the regulation of forms of flexible employment like training-work contracts, part-time and telework (although still in experimental form); and the effective introduction of decentralised level of collective bargaining, which had been much discussed but without results. There were two principal outstanding issues regarding industrial relations:

  • the effective implementation of a second level of bargaining beneath the national level. The endeavour to curb public spending had in fact discouraged the introduction of decentralised bargaining, as it was believed that the centralisation of bargaining would lead to closer control on spending; and
  • the lack of rules on representativeness. A referendum on 11 June 1995 had created a legislative gap, as it resulted in the repeal of article 47 of the 1993 public employment reform law (decree-law no. 29/93) which provided for an agreed definition of trade union representativeness in the public sector. This gave rise to uncertainty, given that the repeal had removed the rules that enabled a specification of the union organisations entitled to take part in collective bargaining.

The new rules

A draft decree-law approved by the Government on 5 August 1997 specifically addresses industrial relations in the public sector. Its innovative aspects are as follows.

  • Rules to ascertain representativeness. In order to be admitted to collective bargaining, trade union organisations must have a minimum representativeness of 5%, a figure obtained by calculating the average between the number of members and the number of votes obtained in the elections for workplace representatives (on the RSU representative body). Moreover, collective agreements are valid if they are signed by union organisations which together represent at least 51% of the workforce, the figure again being calculated by averaging the number of enrolled members and the votes gained in the RSU elections. Verification in both cases will be carried out by the state Bargaining Relations Agency (Agenzia per le Relazioni Negoziali, ARAN). To ensure that verification is conducted objectively, the decree-law provides for the creation of a committee comprising representatives from ARAN and from the union organisations admitted to the collective bargaining process.
  • Introduction of second-level bargaining. In accordance with the central tripartite agreement of 23 July 1993, national-level collective bargaining in the public sector - as with the private sector - is to be accompanied by "integrative" bargaining at the level of the local unit of government. This bargaining must respect the financial constraints imposed by the budget assigned to that unit. This provision has dispelled the doubts over the decentralisation of bargaining expressed by the Treasury.
  • Definition of ARAN's role in bargaining. Whereas to date ARAN has been a technical body working for the Government, under the provisions of the draft decree of 5 August it can now be involved by authorities in bargaining at the level of individual sectors of the public administration. The decree also provides for the creation of sectoral committees (except in the ministries and schools sectors) which can represent local government units operating in the same sector. The aim of this provision is to encourage linkages and coordination between the central and local levels of bargaining. As a consequence, ARAN will become a bargaining participant in its own right, no longer working solely for the government but in close contact with the individual authorities or sector committees.


The draft decree meets one of the needs expressed by the largest confederal trade unions: namely, for well-defined rules on representativeness. In public employment, where there are large numbers of autonomous unions, bargaining has been especially hampered by the multiplicity of unions, some of which are extremely small, with a restricted or solely local base, and which in many cases have defended "particularist" interests. The draft decree-law establishes objective criteria for the definition of the most representative union organisations, which are to be admitted to bargaining.

Moreover, the fact that representativeness is based on both the number of enrolled members and on votes gained by the individual union organisations at the RSU elections guarantees a certain balance between the needs for trade union democracy and for sure rules in the field of representativeness.

In this regard, the decree on the public sector is particularly innovative, and one may expect it to act as a reference model for the private sector as well. In fact, the Chamber of Deputies' Labour Committee is at present discussing a general law on union representation.

The introduction of second-level bargaining represents a step towards homogeneity of treatment between the public and private sector, at least as far as bargaining structure is concerned. Moreover, it confirms the articulation of bargaining on two levels at a time when the results of the July 1993 agreement are in the process of being verified (IT9709212F). The introduction of the second level of bargaining is important because it will facilitate management of the restructuring now taking place in certain sectors of the civil service. Indeed, individual authorities will be able to define rules for the management of personnel which more closely match their organisational requirements. Finally, at a time when the government is reconsidering the distribution of powers and functions between the state and local government within a federal framework, bargaining must envisage the valorisation of the local level. (Marco Trentini, Ires Lombardia)

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