Negotiations continue between social partners and government
During June 2002, negotiations continued between the Italian government and social partner organisations over the former's reform proposals for the labour market and other areas. However, the Cgil trade union confederation announced its intention to collect signatures to enable it to propose two laws and hold two referenda to revoke parts of the government's labour market reform, and to take a case to the Constitutional Court to have the government's proposed changes to Article 18 of the Workers' Statute (relating to the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers) declared unconstitutional. The divisions between the unions have become more marked, with the Cisl and Uil confederations prepared to sign an agreement with the government under certain conditions.
The centre-right government led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the three main trade union confederations - the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italian 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) - have been in dispute since late 2001. The main issue of contention has been the government's proposals for the reform of the labour market, the tax system and the pension system (IT0201277F). These reforms are being introduced by means of 'proxy laws', whereby parliament delegates to the government the power to legislate on a particular issue. The most controversial point of the labour market reform is the proposed amendment to Article 18 of law 300/70 (the Workers' Statute). This Article provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed without 'just cause ' or 'justifiable reason ' and the government plans, for an experimental period, to replace reinstatement with financial compensation for certain groups of workers.
The conflict between the government and the unions culminated with a general strike called by Cgil, Cisl and Uil on 16 April 2002 (IT0204102N). After a period of uncertainty (IT0205101N and IT0205204F), the interrupted negotiations between the government and the social partners over the former's reforms finally resumed at a meeting on 31 May 2002. At the end of this meeting, the government, the employers' associations, Cisl and Uil signed a 'statement of agreement', though Cgil decided not to sign (IT0206102N). It was agreed that negotiations would be held on four issues - labour market reform, tax reform, the South of Italy and irregular work
Cgil did not take part in the negotiation session on the labour market held on 24 June 2002, and announced its intention to have recourse to the Constitutional Court (Corte Costituzionale) to have the changes to Article 18 proposed by the government declared unconstitutional. The government proposed that - for a three-year period - Article 18 should not apply to companies newly employing more than 15 employees thanks to new open-ended recruitment. All companies which employ more than 15 workers would still have to observe law108/90, which provides for financial compensation rather reinstatement in the event of dismissal without just cause. According to Cgil, this proposal could infringe the Italian Constitution because 'it introduces differentiations as regards workers' rights in different companies and distorts company competition' stated Sergio Cofferati, the general secretary of Cgil. Many observers doubt whether a ruling of unconstitutionality could be made on this basis and question the right of a trade union organisation to take a matter to the Constitutional Court, as this is the responsibility of magistrates.
Cgil is also seeking to collect at least 5 million signatures before autumn 2002, in order to enable it to make two proposals for legislation and hold two 'abrogative referenda' (national referenda on revoking specific legal provisions). The proposed laws would: extend employment rights to non-protected workers such as freelance and consultancy workers 'coordinated by an employer' (collaboratori coordinati e continuativi) (IT0011273F); and reform the 'social shock absorbers' (the schemes which cushion the effects of redundancies and restructuring in some sectors - IT0205204F), linking them to training policies. The abrogative referenda would focus on the proxy law on the labour market and on the law reforming Article 18, once approved by parliament. The Cgil initiatives are likely to maintain and fuel divisions among the trade unions.
On 25 June 2002, the 250-member general council of Cisl, elected during its 2001 congress (IT0107191N), voted by a large majority (with only 10 abstentions – from representatives of the metalworking and banking unions – and one vote against) to mandate the confederal secretariat to continue negotiations with the government. However, the general council made some conditions and reserved the right to decide on the signature of a possible agreement with the government only after the conclusion of the negotiations and a debate within the council.
Cisl has made the following conditions for any agreement with the government on the reform of the labour market:
- the suspension of Article 18 must have an experimental character and apply only in cases where companies, through open-ended recruitment, newly employ more than 15 workers. At the end of the three-year experimental period, the issue must again be negotiated between the social partners, before the changes can become definitive;
- the government's 2003 'economic and financial planning document' (Documento di Programmazione Economica e Finanziaria, Dpef) must contain additional resources for unemployment benefits;
- streamlined procedures for outsourcing contained in the 'proxy law' on the labour market must be withdrawn, and the current constraints maintained; and
- the starting point for the tax reform must be tax reductions for low-income families.
Uil shares Cisl's general approach, and stated that an agreement on labour market reform between the government, the employers' organisations and Cisl and Uil was very likely to be reached during the first two weeks of July 2002. Cgil has confirmed that it does not intend to sign any such agreement.