Dissolution of Intersind ends Italy's experience of public sector employers' associations

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On 14 January 1998, procedures began for the definitive dissolution of Intersind, the organisation representing the publicly-owned enterprises of Italy's Iri Group. The companies belonging to Intersind will now "directly and totally" join the main Confindustria organisation, a move which marks the end of the experience of public sector employers' associations in Italy.

In May 1994, a political agreement was signed whereby the publicly-owned enterprises of the Iri Group, which made up the membership of the Intersind employers' association, joined Confindustria, the largest employers' association for private companies in Italy. The agreement - signed by Romano Prodi, then chair of the Iri Group, by Luigi Abete, ex-chair of Confindustria, and by Agostino Paci, chair of Intersind - gave significant recognition of a new role for Intersind: it would preserve a specific character within Confindustria as a federation of network service companies.

Four years after that agreement, which was prompted largely by the privatisation of the Iri Group then in progress - from its manufacturing firms to its banks, from its telecommunications companies to its motorway companies - Intersind has now given up its special status. The problems connected with the "top-down" creation of an association for network service companies delayed the Iri Group's definitive membership of Confindustria (originally scheduled for 1996). This membership was officially launched by a statement issued by the group on 14 January 1998 declaring that the Intersind companies would now "directly and totally" join Confindustria, while still guaranteeing, however, "adequate representation of the Iri companies in the decision-making bodies of the confederal system, the gradual updating of the contributions paid by affiliated companies, and the protection of Intersind personnel".

The structure of the system of employers' representation in Italy

Now that the Intersind companies have definitively joined Confindustria, in the wake of Asap (to which the petrochemicals companies in the Eni Group belonged), the organisation of employers in Italy has lost a feature that had been distinctive of it since the 1950s.

The traditional organisational model of employers' associations in Italy largely replicates the pattern of the country's trade unions, with a bipolar horizontal and vertical structure. Indeed the territorial (horizontal) dimension has been even more marked in employers' associations than in the trade unions. In the industrial sector, Confindustria, for example, is a second-level organisation, in that firms do not belong to it directly but first enrol with their local organisations. The vertical dimension - comprising the various branches of industry, such as metalworking, chemicals or textiles - developed later, in the 1970s, with a group of individual federations - Federmeccanica, Federchimica, Federtessile etc - which independently managed their industrial relations, although always under the close supervision of the confederation. However, the control and the centralisation of employers' associations has always been limited in Italy, due mainly to the dualisms in the economic and productive system and the consequent divergences among the interests represented.

Thus, in an economic context characterised after the Second World War by differences not only between export-oriented sectors and those catering to the domestic market, but also between large and small firms, between private firms and public ones, the pluralism of the employers' associations developed in at least four dimensions. The employers' associations in fact were divided not only by economic sector- agriculture: Confagricoltura; industry: Confindustria; commerce: Confcommercio; crafts: Confartigianto- but also according to firms' size- Confapi for small industrial firms; Confcoltivatori and Coldiretti for small farm businesses - according to political ideology- Confesercenti; left: Coldiretti; centre-right - and according to ownership- Intersind for the publicly-owned enterprises of the Iri Group; Asap for the state-owned or controlled companies in the Eni Group.

The role of the public employers' associations

The role performed by Confindustria - for many years the only central employers' association in Italy - reinforced the centralisation of the bargaining system in the years immediately following the Second World War and in the 1950s. Subsequently, its role diminished, especially in the 1960s and thereafter, because of the creation of public sector employers' associations. Intersind was set up in 1958, following the creation of the Ministry of State Share-Holdings and the ensuing ministerial directive which separated the "bargaining" representation (not "economic" representation, which remained entrusted to Confindustria) of publicly-owned companies from that of private ones. Asap was then created in 1960, as a development of the industrial relations service of the petrochemical companies belonging to the Eni Group. The launching of complementary bargaining, sanctioned by the Asap-Intersind agreement of 1962, was the main strategic innovation introduced into industrial relations by the new public sector employers' associations. Thereafter, the bipolar character of the Italian bargaining system persisted until its two levels - national sectoral level, and company or local level - were officially recognised by the tripartite agreement of 23 July 1993 (IT9709212F).

However, in the 1970s and 1980s, Intersind and Asap also made important innovations as far as workers' participation is concerned, especially as regards information and consultation rights. The unions thus became important partners of management, which had to submit its strategic decisions to the "obligatory but not binding opinion" of the workers' representative bodies. Pioneering collective agreements in this regard were signed in 1984-86 (the Iri protocol) and at the end of the 1980s (the Eni and Efim protocols).

Commentary

Although the privatisation of numerous state-owned enterprises - in the banking, telecommunications and energy sectors - in the 1990s will have unpredictable effects on labour relations, it is probable that the traditional pattern of trade union participation and stable industrial relations in these enterprises will continue, albeit with less differentiation than is currently the case among private firms. Moreover, the above-mentioned impetus imparted by the public sector employers' associations to the development of participatory industrial relations has developed, and in the 1990s it has influenced private companies as well, as attested by the recent growth of participatory industrial relations models at Zanussi and in the Fiat plant at Melfi (IT9704204F).

Yet Intersind joining Confindustria will only partly reduce the fragmentation of employers' associations in Italy, which are still divided according to the other three criteria: sector, size and ideology. The traditional influence of the latter criterion seems to have diminished, however, now that the Tangentopoliscandal has led to the disappearance of long-established parties like Christian Democracy and the Socialist Party, and the transformation of the Communist Party. Evidence of this is provided, for example, by the recent joint policy adopted by the agriculture organisations against those aspects of concertation deemed less advantageous to them. It is also illustrated by the action of the four confederations in the crafts sector (Confartigianato, Can, Casa and Claai), which have not only unanimously engaged in concertation with the Government (from the agreement of 23 July 1993 to the Pact for Employment of September 1996 - IT9702201F) but also declared their intention to cooperate much more closely, if not to merge, at least as regards the joint provision of certain services to crafts firms, with local-level experiments already underway.

The end of public sector employers' associations in Italy, however, raises a number of questions, not only as regards Confindustria, but also as regards employers' representation in Italy as a whole. Firstly, will the significant stock of expertise in labour relations which, as we have seen, helped greatly to innovate Italy's industrial relations system be preserved, or will it be fragmented by the individual membership of Intersind firms in Confindustria? Integration will be easier for the manufacturing firms, whose direct entry into Confindustria was already envisaged. But will the service companies - those, for example, in the telecommunications and transport sectors (Telecom Italia, Autostrade Spa, Alitalia), now privatised or in the process of privatisation - be denied more specific associative forms more suited to their traditions of labour relations? Even if the idea of a federation of network service companies has not been fulfilled, the problem of the pluralism of employers' representation still remains. Indeed, it is now increasing within Confindustria itself and should be addressed with appropriate measures (Serafino Negrelli, University of Brescia).

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