Agreement relaunches bargaining in Lombardy's artisanal sector
In February 2001, after three years of stagnating negotiations, the social partners in the artisanal sector (small-scale crafts and trades businesses) in Italy's Lombardy region signed an agreement aimed at relaunching decentralised bargaining, promoting consultation and dialogue, and strengthening their system of joint bodies. The improved industrial relations climate subsequently enabled new collective agreements to be reached in many of Lombardy's key artisanal activities. The accord may have wider implications for a reform of Italy's bargaining structure.
The Italian collective bargaining system is facing a difficult period. The social partners have differing opinions on the current two-tier (national industry level and local/company level) bargaining structure established by the 1993 national intersectoral agreement on incomes policy and bargaining structures (IT9803223F). Some parties believe that the two-tier system should be further decentralised, with a greater role for wage bargaining at decentralised level and the national sectoral level only defining minimum and general conditions. For their part, some employers' organisations want to reform the bargaining system by reducing it to just one level. Confartigianato, one of the employers' organisation representing the artisanal sector (small-scale crafts and trades businesses) is one of the main supporters of such a single-tier system and has also rejected the 1993 intersectoral agreement which established it (IT0007357F). The artisanal sector is very important to the Italian economy: 96% of Italian companies are small firms with under 20 employees (the majority of which are small-scale craft businesses).
Second-level, decentralised bargaining has stagnated over the past three years in the artisanal sector - where such bargaining occurs at local/territorial and subsectoral, rather than company level. Furthermore, a number of strikes have been organised by trade unions. An agreement signed on 2 February 2001 in the Lombardy region seeks to resolve this situation. The deal was signed initially by the regional bodies of the Cgil, Cisl and Uil trade union confederations and of the artisanal employers organisations, Confartigianato, Casa, Cna and Claai. The agreement introduces many innovations, not least the identity of the signatories. It has been signed by the regional trade union confederations themselves, and not the sectoral bodies to which they usually delegate the negotiation of employment conditions. The partners have negotiated a genuine framework agreement which innovates bargaining at decentralised level and opens up new perspectives for the reform of the whole national bargaining system. Many of Italy's artisanal companies are located in Lombardy, employing 350,000 workers, and the new agreement therefore represents an important development which could also be followed by other regional agreements.
The agreement deals with three major issues related to the industrial relations system applying to small artisanal companies:
- bargaining structure. The model developed by the agreement is based on the principle of subsidiarity and involves two levels and differs from sector to sector. It maintains the national collective agreement but decentralises many subjects currently assigned to the national level to the second level;
- concertation. The partners have agreed to participate jointly in all instances of concertation which have direct or indirect consequences on the artisanal sector and on small and medium-sized companies. The aim is to ensure their representation in consultations with regional authorities and avoid being marginalised by a tendency for only the representatives of larger-scale businesses to be consulted; and
- joint bodies. The partners have decided to strengthen the system of bipartite joint bodies. The expected forthcoming reform of Italy's system of "social shock absorbers" (which soften the blow of redundancies and restructuring - IT9802319F) should entrust management of the system to joint bodies set up by the social partners. In order to deal with this development and identify possible support mechanisms, the parties agreed to meet in March 2001. The agreement also stabilises the organisational structure of the existing joint bodies in Lombardy's artisanal sector - Elba (assistance and services) which employs more than 200 workers, Cpra (safety) and Fondo Lombardo Formazione (training). Each body will have its own budget and an independent structure and will manage relations with other institutions independently.
At the meeting scheduled for 31 March 2001, the partners will also discuss supplementary pensions and in particular how to activate the Artifond regional supplementary fund for the artisanal sector. The agreement also deal with training for apprentices: apprentices with a high-school diploma can limit the theoretical training element of their apprenticeship to issues relating to legislative and bargained regulations, the employment relationship and health and safety at work.
The regional agreement laid the foundations for a positive conclusion of subsectoral bargaining in the Lombardy artisanal sector after a long and difficult period of negotiations. On 15 February 2001, regional agreements were signed for: artisanal metalworking (goldsmiths, dental technicians and mechanical artisans); wood and furniture; hairdressing (the first agreement ever signed for this activity); graphical design; packaging; and garments and textiles.
According to the Lombardy regional secretary of Cisl, Domencio Pesenti, "the relaunch of the regional system of joint bodies is very important. It is based on the consolidation of mutual trust, equal dignity among the partners and joint management."
However, on 26 February 2001 the regional secretariat of Cgil decided to withdraw its signature from the agreement. According to Cgil, there are serious and worrying aspects relating to the application of the agreement. According to Cgil the agreement widens the scope of decentralised bargaining excessively to the detriment of the national agreement and extends the role of social partners too far. Cisl and Uil confirmed their adherence to the agreement.