EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Marazzi, Italy: Increasing the labour market participation of underrepresented groups – women


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increasing labour market participation of underrepresented groups

In December 2004, the Italian company Marazzi Ceramiche S.p.A. and the sectoral trade union organisations signed a new company agreement for the plants located in Sassuolo and Fiorano. The agreement provides for more suitable shifts and working time for working mothers until their child reaches the age of three years. Furthermore, it provides a subsidy of 50 euros per month to help working mothers pay for day-care facilities for a maximum period of 18 months.

Organisational background

The Marazzi Group, founded in 1935 in Sassuolo (Modena), is the leading producer of ceramic tiles in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Today, the Marazzi Group employs 5,884 workers, 2,466 of whom are in Italy. The Italian workforce consists of 135 managers (of whom 10 are women), 681 white-collar workers (of whom 176 are women) and 1,650 blue-collar workers (of whom 400 are women). It is a multinational company with 20 production plants, 11 of which are in Italy, three in France, two in Spain, two in the United States and two in Russia. The Group presents a vertically integrated structure, which directly controls all phases, from manufacturing to marketing. The central management of the parent company makes decisions at company level. At the Italian level, the group has always maintained a dialogue with the three chemical worker Italian Trade Union Federations (Filcea-Cgil. Femca-Cisl, Uilcem-Uil). The plants in Sassuolo and Fiorano have 15 union representatives (of whom three are women) and union density is about 30 to 35%. The Marazzi Group is a member of the employers’ association Assopiastrelle, affiliated to Confindustria.

Description of the initiative

In December 2004, Marazzi Gruppo Ceramiche SpA concluded a new ‘supplementary agreement' (i.e. a company-level agreement within the framework of the national sectoral agreement). The agreement, which involves about 1,000 workers at the company plants in Sassuolo and Fiorano, was signed on the trade union side by Filcea-Cgil and Femca-Cisl.

The main innovations include measures to improve training and skills, increased allowances, measures to help working mothers and changes to working hours.

The measures to help working mothers were as a result of a request made by the female workers of the company. For women with young children, working certain shifts caused problems, in addition to the fact that the costs of day-care nurseries at Sassuolo are very high. The trade unions and the employees prepared a proposal to increase the participation of working mothers. Following a number of meetings between the employees and the trade unions, the following conditions were proposed: the construction of a company nursery facility or, if that was not possible, a financial subsidy to help pay for day-care facilities over a period of 24 months and measures to help both working mothers and working fathers.

After talks between trade unions and management, an agreement was reached. Unfortunately, the proposal to have a company nursery facility could not be satisfied. The company agreed to give working mothers a financial contribution of 50 euros per month, for a period of 18 months to subsidise nursery costs, thus now the measures only apply to working mothers and not to working fathers.

In addition to the financial contribution, working mothers can benefit from more convenient shifts and working time until the child reaches the age of three (the child goes to preschool starting at age three). For example, the company eliminated the shift on Saturday mornings for working mothers, as it was very inconvenient. The company also made it easier for women to return to work after giving birth. In this case, women can ask to work part time and later on return to full-time work. The option to ask to work part time is available for all women.

The various applications for part-time work after giving birth are assessed by a joint committee. About 80% of the applications have been approved. Certain applications were rejected because the type of process didn’t allow just a four-hour work period. Of the rejected applications, the majority were listed as ‘stand-by’, i.e. if there was another woman who wanted to work part-time, the job could be divided, in order that each woman works four hours a day on the same task. For the applications that were rejected by the committee and not considered as stand-by, the women accepted the rejection and did not challenge the decision.

Throughout this agreement, the company invests more effectively in human capital and tries to ensure the maintenance of female labour participation by guaranteeing more advantages to working mothers.

Besides the measures to help working mothers, the agreement also sets new rules on training. According to the agreement, training is a strategic tool for increasing the quality of human resources. Continuing training should be developed for all occupational groups, including white- and blue-collar workers. In particular, activities will focus on basic training, specific vocational training and training in team-work. At the beginning of each year, the company evaluates the following: the workers’ real training needs, possible ad hoc actions, priorities, procedures for the implementation of these actions, and the possibility of accessing industry-wide vocational training funds, as well as any available public and private resources. The 2000 Finance Law (388/00) radically changed the funding of continuing vocational training. The legislation adopted in Italy 2000 made it possible for the social partners to set up industry-wide funds to finance continuing vocational training. The new funds receive the 0.3% contribution levied on employers for continuing training, which formerly went to the public authorities.


According to the company agreement, underwritten by the trade unions and management of Marazzi, working mothers may benefit, until the child reaches the age of three, from more convenient shifts and working time. Moreover, the agreement provides for a financial contribution of 50 euros per month for a maximum period of 18 months to help working mothers pay for day-care facilities.

The renewal of the company’s collective agreement comes after several years of a slowdown in the ceramic tiles sector, and at a time when the industry’s global market has been going through a phase of structural change. Because of the technological transformation, women’s jobs are often at stake. The trade unions have considered this to be very important reason for a company policy aimed at increasing women’s participation. The unions have concentrated on women with young children because of the additional problems this causes for working women. The chance to work part-time for a while, then to return to work full time is one of the key factors of success. But also the financial contribution for 18 months to pay for the day-care facilities is very important for the working mothers, considering the cost of nursery fees.

The agreement was reached after several meetings, first, between the trade unions and the employees (especially the female workers), then between the company and the trade unions, in which the proposals were discussed. Before this agreement, the women had not obtained any special measures regarding convenient shifts, working time or financial allowances. The agreement is very innovative in its sector and is an example for other companies in the ceramic tile sector. Indeed, some companies have already copied the Marazzi model so as to increase women’s participation.

This agreement is seen as the start of an employment policy addressed at including women in the working place.

Exemplary and contextual factors

The company agreement underwritten at Marazzi encourages women’s inclusion as it gives specific measures to help working mothers. The special measures include a financial contribution to pay for day-care facilities and the opportunity to work on more mother-friendly shifts and more convenient working times, e.g. part-time work. The company has tried to guarantee a better work–life balance for women. The agreement is innovative and ought to be seen as an example of good practice for other firms.

Maite Tapia, Volker Telljohan, Fondazione Istituto per il Lavoro, Bologna

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