New bill regulates strikes in public services

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In March 1999, the Italian cabinet approved a bill amending the law on strikes in essential public services. The new law, if approved by parliament, would extend regulations on the right to strike to non-dependent categories of worker and increase the prerogatives of the Guarantee Authority, the body which guarantees the enforcement of the law.

The Italian government, in agreement with the Cgil, Cisl and Uil trade union confederations, has decided to amend law 146/90, which regulates strikes in essential public services (IT9802220F) extending it to all non-dependent workers who provide services for the community and increasing the prerogatives of the Guarantee Authority (Commissione di Garanzia), which enforces the law. The cabinet approved a bill to this effect on 16 March 1999

The bill, which will have to be enacted by parliament, would extend the existing regulations on the right to strike in essential public services to all those independent and professional workers and entrepreneurs whose activity affects the "functionality" of public services - such as lawyers, pharmacists, general practitioners and taxi drivers. The proposed law says that, within six months of its enactment, trade union organisations representing these categories of workers would have to submit to the Guarantee Authority their own codes regulating strikes by their members. In particular these "codes of conduct" should guarantee the minimum service provision necessary in the event of strikes in order to protect users' rights, and contain clauses to prevent and cool down conflicts.

The draft law would also gives the Guarantee Authority new prerogatives, obliging it to: evaluate these codes of conduct; express its opinion about their criteria of application; and assess in advance all the strike announcements by public service workers under its jurisdiction. In order to prevent conflicts, the Authority would be able to gather information or call together the partners for specific meetings. In such cases, it could also propose changing the date of the strike so as to find an agreement, or ask to call off the strike or modify its type. The Authority could also start an "evaluation procedure" on the behaviour of the parties involved in a strike, who would have 30 days to present their comments and request a hearing. At least 30 days from the opening of the procedure and no later than 60 days from this point, the Authority would assess the case and decide on any sanctions to be applied to both defaulting organisations and individual workers.

Such sanctions could range from a minimum fine of ITL 5 million to a maximum of ITL 50 million, amounts which could be doubled if a strike takes place against the Authority's will. The sanctions would be applied directly by the public administrations or companies, which would withdraw the money from the union dues destined for the organisation that broke the rules, or deduct it from the pay of the workers that took part in the strike in question. The application of these sanctions would be binding for the companies and public administrations involved. If the sanctions were not applied without an acceptable justification, the commission could levy a fine of ITL 400,000 to ITL 1 million on the defaulting administrations or companies.

If more than one strike affecting the same sector and the same users were called by different union organisations, the Authority would be able to postpone the date of the strikes called later in time.

The bill would also allow competent authorities (ministers, prefects, etc) to adopt the necessary measures to prevent all abstentions from work which could jeopardise "people's rights protected by the Constitution". Such measures would have to be adopted 48 hours before the beginning of a strike.

Finally, the bill provides for sanctions on trade union organisations which call off strikes spontaneously after having informed the users that they are to occur. This behaviour is considered unfair.

Cgil, Cisl and Uil are satisfied with the bill which, they believe, will limit "wildcat" strikes. Ivano Spalanzani, president of Confartgianato, which represents artisanal employers, said that the use of self-regulatory codes of conduct would be a positive measure. Some lawyers' associations, which have in the past organised lengthy strikes, are definitely against the proposals, accusing the bill of being unconstitutional.

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