Agreement on workers' mobility between South and North

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In January 2001, the Italian Minister of Industry, Enrico Letta, signed an agreement with trade unions to encourage workers' mobility between the North and South and investment in southern regions. The initiative was prompted by the difficulties experienced by Franco Tosi, an electro-mechanical company located in the North, in finding 1,500 blue-collar workers.

The Italian economy is sharply divided between the South and the North, which have very different economic conditions. The industrialised North is among the richest areas in Europe and experiences major labour shortages that even immigration from outside the EU does not meet. The South, on the contrary, has a stagnant economy, with much economic activity being underground or clandestine, and a youth unemployment rate which is 20% higher than the northern regions and indeed the highest in Europe.

Given the lack of work, people in the South have long been forced into major migrations: many migrated to the USA after the First World War and to northern Europe after the Second World War, while during the 1950s and 1960s more than 3 million people left for Italy's northern regions This migration has hindered the southern economy, where the stagnant economy and the failure of various public interventions have paved the way for organised crime to become deeply rooted. In recent years, the economy of the South has been growing faster than that of the rest of Italy (IT9905111N) but this has not been not enough to reduce the South's high unemployment rate, which stood at 20.8% in July 2000 (compared with 5.2% in the central and northern regions).

The social partners and the government have prioritised narrowing the employment gap between the North and South. Despite the northern regions' major need for labour, young people from the South are reluctant to move north. Many of them prefer precarious or irregular employment in the South rather than moving elsewhere. The reasons for this reluctance include northern pay levels which are considered too low to live there, given the high cost of living and of housing, and difficulties in leaving their family.

Companies assert that the state should foster workers' mobility between South and North while trade unions believe that companies should create jobs where there are workers available. The Minister of Industry, Enrico Letta, has now taken a concrete initiative which combines the two positions.

On 18 January 2001, the Ministry and the metalworkers' federations affiliated to the Cgil, Cisl and Uil trade union confederations - Fim, Fiom and Uilm- agreed a plan of action. The initiative was prompted by the case of Franco Tosi, an electro-mechanical company located at Legnano (Milan) which is having difficulty in finding 1,500 blue-collar workers, but has much wider implications. The main plank of the plan is bringing together a series of new and existing measures to support companies in seeking personnel, and promote South-North mobility and investment in the South. The plan is based on cooperation between companies and trade unions and on government intervention to coordinate the support measures already available under current legislation. The main points are as follows:

  • all companies that declare their willingness to invest in southern regions will have priority in the allocation of government funds;
  • another prerequisite to obtain public funding is the creation of additional employment. Companies will be able to employ young people from the South in their northern plants for a maximum period of two years and then transfer them to southern plants. The mobility of these young people will be temporary, allowing them to gain professional experience in northern plants before returning to work in a plant that the company has meanwhile built in the South. Companies will be able to benefit from the tax credits usually reserved for new recruitment in the South and the workers who move to the North will benefit from an "accommodation allowance". Companies will have to provide housing for workers during their period in the North and will be entitled to tax relief on these expenses; and
  • in order to take part in the project, companies will have to draw up an "industrial development plan" to identify their human resource needs and the occupational profiles of their workforce, as well as their workers' accommodation needs. These documents must be drawn through negotiation between the social partners at company level. To this end, the Minister of Industry will set up specific offices known as "single sectoral authorities" (Garante Unitario di Settore, Gus) for each industrial sector. These authorities will be responsible for communication among the various actors and for the collection of data on workers looking for employment. They will help companies to benefit from the various advantages provided for by the law, as well as approving training projects and assisting companies in investing in the South.

This new approach will be subject to experiment at Franco Tosi. The company has decided to distribute the 1,500 new jobs it is seeking to create between its three northern plants at Legnano, Dongo and Spoleto. The trade unions will collaborate with the company in the drawing up of an industrial development plan and will monitor its implementation.

The general secretary of Fiom, Claudio Sabattini, said that the "North-South model" developed by Mr Letta and the unions will "guarantee that workers move North for non-precarious employment and that they will also have social guarantees such as accommodation and training".

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