Confindustria holds annual assembly
In May 2003, Confindustria, Italy’s main employers’ association, held its annual assembly. Its president, Antonio D’Amato, addressed some key issues in his address, including the reform of the pension system, Italy’s economic recovery, the tax burden, welfare reform, labour market reform, the public administration, the resources to be allocated to research, and Southern Italy.
On 22 May 2003, Confindustria, the largest Italian employers’ confederation, held its annual assembly in Rome. During the assembly, the organisation's president, Antonio D’Amato, highlighted Confindustria’s official positions on the main current issues of national debate. The meeting saw the participation of 3,520 employers' representatives (600 more than in 2002 - IT0206306F) as well as many political figures - the presidents of the two houses of parliament (the Chamber and of the Senate) and many ministers - and the general secretaries of the three main trade union confederations.
Mr D’Amato's address to the annual assembly dealt with various topical themes, as follows.
- Competitiveness. According to Mr D’Amato, taxes on companies should be reduced in order to enhance investments and increase the general competitiveness of the Italian industrial system. According to Confindustria, the corporate income tax rate (Irpeg) should be reduced, while the regional corporate tax rate (Irap) should be reviewed when discussing the next national budget law.
- Pensions. According to the Confindustria president, approval of the government's pensions and social security reform (IT0305102N) should be hastened and should introduce incentives for workers who decide to postpone their retirement, disincentives for workers who decide to retire on a seniority pension before having paid 40 years of contributions, and reduced employers' social security contributions in respect of new recruits to encourage young people's access to the labour market. If this took place, employers would give up the present incentives for new recruitment.
- Welfare. The employers are against the present welfare system (IT0302307F). According to Confindustria, Italy should switch from its traditional 'welfare state' to a new 'workfare state' following two directions: preparing young people adequately for the economy's needs; and organising retraining paths for people outside the productive system who are still able to 'make their contribution'.
- Economic situation. According to Confindustria's research centre (Centro Studi), economic forecasts are not very optimistic. In 2003, Italy's international commerce will grow by only 3%-4% (compared with 12% in 2000, the last year before the coming of the euro single currency). Economic growth within the euro-zone will reach 1% in 2003 and no more than 1.8% in 2004. According to the Confindustria president, the economic recovery will have to start at European level. Problems in competitiveness and development are also the consequences of an exclusively monetary nature of the European Union. The EMU stability pact should be reinterpreted, applying a 'golden rule'- ie a criterion which allows countries to subtract investments in infrastructures and research from their public deficit - which could have a positive impact on competitiveness and economic recovery in the whole euro-zone.
- Labour market. Mr D’Amato expressed his satisfaction with all the government's efforts to 'realise a new labour market'. He made positive comments about the new 'Biagi' labour market reform law (IT0303103N) which 'increases job opportunities for everybody and creates job stability'. The Confindustria president considers flexibility as 'the real weapon against precariousness' and for this reason he voiced many criticisms against the forthcoming referendum on unfair dismissal rules (IT0302104N), whose only value, he said, is to clarify the position of the all social partners on the issue. Mr D’Amato suggested abstaining in the referendum in order to make the initiative fail.
- Social dialogue. Mr D’Amato listed the results achieved thanks to 'a new industrial relations method and to the new social dialogue' which is not based on the 'mutual exchange of conveniences' but which looks beyond individual organisation's areas of representation. During the last 30 months, said the Confindustria president, 'we have signed 56 collective agreements which cover about 4 million workers'. Mr D'Amato also stressed the continuing validity of the national tripartite agreement of 23 July 1993 on incomes policy (IT9709212F), which must be taken as a reference point for the renewal of expired national sectoral collective agreements.
- Relations with the trade union s. Mr D’Amato voiced many criticisms of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) and especially its former general secretary, Sergio Cofferati (IT0210101N), accusing him of having adopted a 'political plan against not only the government but also the opposition'. At the same time, Mr D'Amato expressed his solidarity with Savino Pezzotta, the general secretary of the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italian Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and his organisation for 'the outrageous manifestation of antidemocratic intolerance and for the terrorist attacks on his organisation'.
- Public administration. The Confindustria president blames the inefficiency of the public administration for Italy's loss of international competitiveness. According to Mr D'Amato, the country is once again following the old logic of 'protecting the public employee caste', as demonstrated by the latest public sector collective agreements (IT0303204F) which have resulted in 'new pay increases which do not respect the rules established by the July 1993 agreement - once again money was distributed against these rules'.
- Research. Mr D’Amato called for the allocation of more resources to research, which at present receives 1% of GDP. The EU objective of raising research expenditure to 3% of GDP by 2010, agreed at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 (EU0004241F), should be achieved, laying the basis for a European research policy through the overhaul of the university system, making it 'able to attract and maintains brains'.
- Southern Italy. Within a few years, when the candidate countries join the EU, the Community resources allocated for depressed areas in current Member States will be withdrawn. Mr D'Amato proposed to open, during the Italian EU Presidency of the second half of 2003, 'an important European debate on introducing differentiated tax rates for the less developed areas'. At national level, Southern Italy (the Mezzogiorno) should occupy a primary place in the country's development policies, using already available resources.
The trade union organisations had different reactions to Mr D'Amato's speech. Mr Pezzotta, the general secretary of Cisl, referred to the 'employers' overture which the trade unions must acknowledge' and also to 'possible convergences', Luigi Angeletti, the general secretary of the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil), acknowledged 'some steps forward' while Guglielmo Epifani, the Cgil general secretary, said that Mr D’Amato 'had not faced the core problems of the current issues'.
The three trade union confederations were united in their reaction to Confindustria's proposals on the pensions system. They rejected Mr D’Amato's proposal to accelerate the pension reform, introduce disincentives for workers retiring on seniority pensions and abolish social security contributions for new recruits. The introduction of disincentives would, according to the unions, mean a reduction in pensions for workers who have met the statutory requirements for receiving a seniority pension (ie they must have made 37 years of contributions and be 57 years of age).