EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

University of Siena, Italy: Towards a balanced flexibility


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Towards a balanced flexibility

In February 2005, the University of Siena and the Italian confederate and autonomous trade union organisations representing education workers signed an agreement aimed at regulating and extending the labour and social rights of temporary employees. The agreement, the first of its kind, provides maternity, sickness and occupational accident coverage and lays down fixed deadlines for the payment of annual earnings.

Organisational background

The University of Siena (Università degli Studi di Siena, UNISI) in Italy is one of the oldest universities in Italy, founded in the 13th century. It currently has around 20,000 registered students. The University is divided into nine faculties, and is most famous for its schools of law and medicine.

In line with the University’s action plan for 2005–2007, there are 1,253 technical and administrative personnel, including 789 women; 44.8% are aged between 40 and 49 years old; there are 991 lecturers and 110 workers are contracted to work on projects (including 75 women).

The present university rector, Silvano Focardi, represents the University, the community of professors, the students and the technical and administrative personnel. As the head of the governing body of the University he ensures compliance with the directives issued by the Academic Senate and the Board of Administration and is responsible for their fulfilment.

Collective bargaining takes place between the management, on one side, and the workplace employee representation body (Rappresentanza Sindale Unitaria, RSU) and external trade unions on the other. A high degree of interaction between the social parties has emerged.

Description of the initiative

An important agreement regulating project work was signed on 9 February 2005. The agreement was signed by the University of Siena and by the trade union organisations representing workers in the education sector, and non-standard contract workers affiliated to Italy’s main trade union confederations: the New Working Identities federation (Nuove Identità di Lavoro, Cgil-NIdiL); Cgil-Snur (representing university and research); Cgil-Flc (representing knowledge workers); Cisl-Alai (representing non-standard and temporary-agency workers); Cisl Federazione Università, Cpo-Uil (employment and coordination), Uil-Fur (representing university and research). The agreement was also signed by a number of autonomous trade unions: the Italian Autonomous Trade Union Confederation of University Personnel (Confederazione Italiana Sindacato Autonomo Personale Universitario, Cisapuni), the National Autonomous Trade Union of School Workers (Sindacato Nazionale Autonomo Lavoratori Scuola, Snals) and by the General Confederation of Autonomous Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Generale Sindacati Autonomi Lavoratori, Confsal).

The policy resulted from the emergence of flexible contracts, such as project contracts. The main actors involved in putting forward, drafting and implementing the agreement were Silvano Focardi, the rector, Loriano Bigi, administrative director of the University, the trade unions (including external trade unions from territorial and national level), experts in labour law and the temporary employees.

In 2000, the University of Siena, together with the trade unions, decided to set up a ‘two-party observatory’, the role of which was to collect information pertaining to flexible labour contracts and monitor their correct use. The observatory interpreted the methods of employment and the use of human resources, with particular reference to flexible forms of work.

Subsequently, the three-year action plan for 2002–2004 undertook an in-depth analysis of the flexible labour contracts that were increasingly used at the University (as a result of the clampdown on recruitment established by law). According to the Finance Act of 2002, public administrations are prohibited from recruiting a person on an open-ended contract. When the Board of Directors approved this action plan, it deemed it necessary to lay down a protocol to regulate and extend social rights for the project’s contracted workers.

As a result of several meetings between the management and the trade unions, the rector and the administrative director of the University, together with the trade unions, signed the relevant protocol on 24 January 2005,

The main aims of the protocol are to extend social rights to the project’s contracted workers, and to achieve transparency concerning the management of flexible contracts. For example, in terms of these flexible contracts, for the first time it was clearly defined that the rector and the directors of the departments will act as the so-called ‘purchaser (committente), the party who will take full responsibility as a manager. Furthermore, the protocol introduced a project manager, an individual delegated, on behalf of the purchaser, to guarantee compliance with the project contract. In terms of social rights, project contract workers – like other workers – have the opportunity to apply trade union rights: the right to take part in assemblies, the right to training courses (even those aimed at university personnel) and the right to safeguards in the event of illness, occupational accidents or maternity (for instance, being permitted to temporarily suspend work without interrupting the contract, and postponing the deadline of the contract). In order to integrate these workers’ income, the University has instituted social security insurance in their favour.

At the beginning of February 2005, this protocol was written into an agreement between the university and the trade unions. A joint committee is responsible for monitoring the proper working of the agreement. Currently, the latest action plan for 2005–2007 reinforces the assessment of the temporary workers.


In 2003, project contracts were introduced by legislative decree number 276/2003, implementing proxy law 30/2003 on the reform of the labour market. Those project contracts replaced the previous employer-coordinated freelance contracts, with a view to preventing their improper or fraudulent use. A law reforming the Italian labour market, enacted in 2003, introduced important changes relating to ‘semi-subordinate’ work (midway between dependent employment and self-employment). The law provided for the conversion of employer-coordinated freelance contracts, a common form of semi-subordinate work, into ‘project contracts’. The aim was to restrict the indiscriminate use of semi-subordinate labour, but the new law has caused great uncertainty, due to the difficulty of defining what constitutes a work project. Moreover, the absence of any form of social protection (in case of involuntary interruption of work) and the lack of collectively-agreed pay scales of reference have not improved the conditions of these workers.

The agreement between the University the trade unions is highly innovative: it extends rights for social protection, and it introduces both a description of the job profiles to which project contracts are applicable and a relative gross pay scale in line with the collectively agreed pay scales provided for permanent employees. The high level of participation between trade unions, experts in labour law, temporary workers and management is certainly a key element in this innovation. Before implementing the agreement, several assemblies between the different actors took place in order to discuss the implementation of the innovative aspects of the policy.

With this agreement, the University seeks to guarantee a degree of stability for employees, which is needed to achieve higher quality. Workers can have access to training, in the same way as any other employee, and can exercise trade union rights. It is clear that the University aims to provide equal treatment for all its employees; this will, in turn, have a positive impact on all employees and is therefore also a key element in its success.

Exemplary and contextual factors

The new agreement introduced at the University of Siena is an exemplary case of balanced flexibility as it confers social protection rights to temporary workers that go beyond national norms, with the view of ensuring the quality of the University’s work. This unique agreement has now become a benchmark reference for other universities.

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

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