Strike organised in schools sector
In negotiations over the renewal of the collective agreement for the Italian schools sector, divisions have appeared between the trade unions in late 2001. Cisl and Uil have taken a more positive approach towards a number of government concessions on funding for teachers' pay and conditions and schools reform, while Cgil has moved towards a more confrontational stance. All three unions called a strike for 12 November, but Cgil's action is more extensive and has different aims.
On 15 October 2001, a preliminary meeting to discuss the renewal of the sectoral collective agreement for the schools sector was held between the Minister of Education, Letizia Moratti, and the education workers' federations affiliated to the three main trade union confederations - the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil).
The meeting was organised at the request of the trade unions, which wanted to discuss with the government the amount of the allocations provided for the school sector for by the government's 2002 budget law (IT0110103N). The unions believe that the resources provided for the renewal of the collective agreement and for the modernisation of the schools system (IT0108371N) are not enough.
The confederal education unions had hitherto been united when putting forward demands for the renewal of the agreement, but at the 15 October meeting, they took diverging positions. They were divided on how to evaluate the government's various offers and concessions and on the initiatives which should be taken in response.
Cisl and Uil were partially satisfied with the results of the meeting. The two unions signed a 'conciliation agreement' with the Minister, who committed herself, on behalf of the government, to presenting amendments to the budget law on the following issues:
- reinvestment of the resources arising from the increased efficiency of the schools system in favour of all school personnel;
- the allocation of ITL 60 billion (EUR 40 million) to reimburse teachers for the costs of professional updating courses (purchase of books, courses, etc);
- overtime working by secondary-school teachers in the event of the absence of colleagues, up to a weekly maximum, will be voluntary;
- teachers who are absent from work for under 15 days, rather than under 30 days as previously proposed, will be substituted, if the school has the necessary funds, by using overtime work by existing teachers, before having recourse to external teachers. Nursery and elementary schools are excluded from this provision
- the new collective agreement will contain precise criteria for the definition of the number of teachers in each school. The number of classrooms, the local context, the level of provision and the number of students with disabilities will be taken into account;
- elementary schools will still teach a foreign language; and
- school services will not be included in the outsourcing of public administration services, as provided for by the budget law.
The Minister decided to meet the trade unions again on 28 November 2001 to discuss a five-year plan on additional investment for the school sector.
Although the government seemed to be quite open to modifying some points of the budget law, Cisl and Uil decided to call a one-hour strike on 12 November 2001 to express their disagreement over the government's refusal fully to adjust teachers' pay in the light of the difference between real and predicted inflation (on the basis of which pay increases had been calculated). The unions have asked for a monthly increase of ITL 100,000 (EUR 51.64) to cover the inflation gap, while the government has offered only ITL 15,000 (EUR 7.74).
Cgil, by contrast to the other two unions' more positive response, criticised the entire policy of the government, which it considers as punitive towards the school system. In particular, Cgil accuses the government of:
- not investing new resources in public schools;
- reducing and making more difficult the supply of training;
- worsening the conditions for the substitution of absent teachers at secondary schools, thus damaging the students' right to education;
- privatising services and cutting the number of technical and administrative personnel; and
- cutting funds for pay bargaining by ITL 123 billion (EUR 63.5 million) for 2001.
Cgil also called a strike on 12 November, in its case for the full day. Besides asking for full compensation for inflation, as Cisl and Uil have, Cgil has also called on the government to:
- develop a multi-annual investment plan;
- allocate appropriate financial resources in order to guarantee a satisfactory new collective agreement for the schools sector;
- increase teachers' remuneration to average European levels;
- modify further those parts of the 2002 budget law covering personnel, the substitution of teachers in secondary schools, the value of educational qualifications and the quality of employment in technical school services; and
- recognise that teachers' working time is a subject which must be negotiated and not decided unilaterally by the government.
The objectives put forward by Cgil seem to constitute a new platform of demands, different from the one that unions presented jointly at the beginning of the negotiations over the renewal of the schools collective agreement. Cgil's new demands seem to some observers to go beyond the issue of the renewal of the agreement and to suggest a general political clash between Cgil and the government over the schools system.
The general secretary of Cisl, Savino Pezzotta, has voiced many criticisms of Cgil and described the strike organised by Cgil as 'an exclusively political strike which underlines [Cgil's] continuing wish to undermine unitary union relations' (IT0107193F). Antonio Foccillo, confederal secretary at Uil, believes that the disagreement between the unions over joint demands weakens the position of workers substantially.
Enrico Panini, the general secretary of Cgil's education federation (Cgil scuola) replied that 'the reasons behind the strike called by Cgil are the same as those shared by Cisl one year ago: they were not instrumental or ideological at that time and we do not understand why they are now' (IT0010163N).