Unions decry abrupt ending of banking sector agreement

The Italian Banking Association announced on 16 September 2013 that the current national collective agreement for the banking sector will be terminated. In an address to the unions, the ABI said change was needed to reflect the difficult economic conditions that banks in Italy are facing, and to cope with the effects of new technology on the employment landscape. In response, the unions called a strike on 31 October.

Background

The banking sector’s national collective agreement was renewed on 19 January 2012 (IT1202039I), just over a year after the expiry of the previous one in December 2010. Negotiations were concluded quickly and with little difficulty, and were signed by the Italian Federation of Insurance and Credit Workers’ Unions (FISAC-CGIL); the Italian Banking and Insurance Workers Federation (FIBA-CISL); the Union of Italian Credit, Collection and Insurance Workers (UILCA-U); the Independent Federation of Italian Banking Workers (FABI); the General Union of Credit Workers (UGL CREDITO); the National Trade Union Association for Credit, Financial and Banking Management Staff (DIRCREDITO); and the National Federation of Independent Trade Unions – Credit, Finance and Insurance Personnel (SINFUB). The agreement was welcomed by employers and unions and included an annual average pay increase of €170 over three years.

Termination of the current agreement

On 16 September 2013, the Italian Banking Association (ABI) published a press release announcing that it was giving notice of the termination of the national collective agreement. Accordingly, the collective agreement will become redundant after the expiry date of 30 June 2014, and a new agreement must be negotiated.

In an open letter to the unions, ABI Director-General Giovanni Sabatini explained that, as a result of the recession, Italian banks have seen a significant drop in profitability and even financial loss as they bear the burden of increasing regulation and higher labour costs. This, coupled with the increasing impact of new technology, particularly the accelerating use of information and communications technology-based products and networks, means that many banks are overstaffed. While the duration of working life has been extended by recent pension reform, the Director-General's letter goes on to say, workers’ skills and competences do not match the emerging work and organisational requirements.

The result is that, in order to face these challenges, the ABI wants to renegotiate the economic and normative parts of the current collective agreement.

Because the current agreement was due to expire on 30 June 2014, consultations over its renewal were scheduled to begin by 31 December 2013, six months before expiry as stipulated in Article 6 of the collective agreement.

The ABI has said that by opening negotiations sooner, the issues can be addressed early resulting in a broader, deeper and more informed debate among the social partners.

Unions theaten industrial action

On 16 September, the national secretariats of the collective agreement's signatory unions published a joint statement saying they would not accept the ABI’s notice of termination, which they condemned as an act of

…extreme arrogance and significance which breaks a long bargaining tradition that had allowed the parties to build innovative solutions to protect workers and employment, and which announces the intention to place onto workers the costs of difficulties for which the biggest responsibility lies with the employers.

Furthermore, renewal of the sector’s Solidarity Fund, which is intended to support income, employment levels and requalification for workers in the credit sector, was due to be discussed at a meeting between the two sides scheduled for 16 September. There is now a risk that the fund may be ended by the termination of the agreement. The unions announced that they would immediately begin to mobilise workers, planning a general strike for 31 October 2013 and other industrial action in various workplaces.

Lando Maria Sileoni, Secretary General of FABI, the biggest union in the banking sector, declared that the termination of the collective agreement was ‘an unprecedented assault on workers’ rights’.

The Secretary General of FIBA-CISL, Giulio Romani, announced that mobilisation and strike action would protest ‘against the goals and the method of the termination of the agreement’.

FISAC-CGIL Secretary General Agostino Megale said he considered ABI’s decision ‘a very serious mistake’ and that the strike would not only defend industry-wide bargaining and employment, but act as a call for more equitable behaviour in the banking sector, seeking reductions in managers' salaries, more transparent financial and restructuring processes, and an increase in the number of loans granted by banks to Italian companies to aid economic recovery.

Lisa Rustico, University of Milan

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