Unions call joint strike against government proposals on reforming dismissals law

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In late November 2001, negotiations between the Italian government and trade unions on the former's White Paper on the labour market broke down. The reason was that the government intends to modify, for some group of workers, the legal rules which provide for the statutory reinstatement of workers dismissed illegally. The three main union confederations jointly called two-hour general strikes on 5 and 7 December 2001.

In October 2001, Italy's new centre-right government presented a White Paper on the labour market, containing a wide range of proposed legislative reforms in the labour market and industrial relations areas, which are subject to discussions with the social partners (IT0110104F). During the negotiations over the implementation of the White Paper, the government presented to parliament a 'proxy law' (whereby parliament is asked to delegate to the government the power to legislate on an issue) which included proposals to modify the current legal rules on individual dismissal s (licenziamenti individuali). Despite their different approaches towards the government's White Paper, the three main trade union confederations reacted unanimously to what they see as an attack on workers' rights.

On 26 November 2001, the welfare minister, Roberto Maroni, held a meeting with the general secretaries of 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). At the meeting the government presented some of the main points of its proposed proxy law. Among these points the government included, without previous discussion with the trade unions, a proposed experimental modification of Article 18 of the Workers' Statute (law 300/1970). This Article makes obligatory, in companies with more than 15 employees, the resumption of the employment relationship of workers whose dismissal has been judged by the courts to be illegitimate.

The government proposes the abolition, for a four-year experimental period, of obligatory reinstatement and instead the introduction of financial compensation for workers dismissed without just cause. The experimental new regulations will concern only certain groups of workers: the employees of companies which are in the process of regularising their situation, having previously operated in the clandestine economy; workers hired on an open-ended contract after working on a fixed-term contract; and workers newly recruited by companies with fewer than 15 workers, if their recruitment brings the firm's total workforce above 15 (the threshold for application of the compulsory reinstatement provisions).

Cgil, Cisl and Uil have long stated their opposition to any modification of Article 18. Thus, during the meeting held on 26 November, they formally demanded that the government remove from the proxy law the provisions concerning Article 18 and then continue the discussions over the rest of the document. When the government refused, the unions broke off negotiations and decided to express their disagreement with the government's labour policy through four initiatives:

  1. two-hour national general strikes on 5 and 7 December 2001, in order to protest against the refusal of the government to remove the modification of Article 18 from the proxy law. During the strikes, workers were to hold workplace assemblies;
  2. a national strike of public employees (IT0111101N) and school workers (IT0111102N) on 14 December 2001, calling on the government to increase the resources allocated by the 2002 budget law (IT0110103N) for the renewal of public sector collective agreements;
  3. the organisation of a conference of union representatives from the South of Italy in order to discuss a trade union platform for the development of the area, to be presented to the government; and
  4. regional-level meetings with members of parliament in order to discuss Article 18.

Sergio Cofferati, the general secretary of Cgil, stated that the unions' initiatives require 'immediate answers on the part of the government'. Savino Pezzotta, the general secretary of Cisl, regretted the government's attitude and said: 'we chose to enter dialogue without any kind of political prejudices. Our union was interested in understanding the welfare and labour market proposals, but the government decided to modify Article 18 and we cannot accept that.' According to Luigi Angeletti, the general secretary of Uil, 'the rupture with the government took place because the issue of Article 18 was not discussed at the bargaining table and because the government refused to remove it [from the proxy law] only on political grounds.'

Antonio D'Amato, the president of the Confindustria employers' confederation, voiced many criticisms of the trade unions' actions. He supported the government proposals and declared that t'the intervention on Article 18 is just a partial, timid step forward aimed at bringing the Italian labour market closer to those in the rest of Europe.'

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