National agreement signed for food sector

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In July 2003, a new national collective agreement was signed for the 270,000 workers in the Italian food and beverages sector. As well as providing for a pay increase of 6.55% over two years, the agreement strengthens joint industrial relations structures, with a new joint body in charge of training, and introduces greater flexibility in working time and forms of employment.

On 14 July 2003, the employers' organisation for the Italian food and beverages sector, Federalimentare, and the sectoral trade union organisations affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacato Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil) - Flai, Fai and Uila respectively - signed a new national collective agreement for the industry. The previous agreement (IT0107189N) had expired on 5 June 2003. The new agreement was reached after brief and smooth negotiations, to the satisfaction of all the signatories.

The Italian food and beverages sector involves more than 7,000 companies and employs about 270,000 workers, some of whom are seasonal workers. The new agreement deals with issues considered of major importance by both the trade unions and the employers, notably the strengthening of industrial relations structures, wage increases, and greater flexibility in personnel management and working time.

On industrial relations, the partners acknowledge the importance of bipartite dialogue and consultation. The agreement thus sets out a series of measures aimed at strengthening the sectoral joint 'observatory', which the signatories consider to be a 'privileged and fundamental shared industrial relations tool'. The observatory will: analyse all the problems linked to the reorganisation of the sector; monitor decentralised bargaining; and draw up policy recommendations addressed to the public authorities, aimed at fostering the sector's development, increasing employment growth and improving the safety of its products and of its working and external environment. The partners have also agreed on the possibility of setting up local observatories. Furthermore, the agreement ratifies the current two-tier bargaining system, defining the national sectoral collective agreement as the 'reference point for second-level bargaining' (ie at company or local level) and entrusting the social partners with the resolution of problems related to the link between the two bargaining levels - they should meet to discuss these issues before the end of 2003.

Other key points of the new food industry agreement include the following.

  • The agreement entrusts a new joint body, to be established before 31 December 2003, with overseeing continuing training in companies. This body will maintain relations with the institutions in charge of training, support and engage in dialogue with the observatories established by the agreement (see above) and manage relations with the Fondimpresa (Fondo interprofessionale per la formazione continua) vocational training fund (IT0202103F). The joint body will also raise funds, develop projects, and identify and analyse training project proposals.
  • The accord deals with personnel flexibility in relation to the seasonal character of the sector's activities, by establishing that the percentage of workers hired on fixed-term contracts should not exceed 14% of open-ended contracts, but can be increased by a decentralised decision, according to specific needs. Companies must reserve at least 70% of new open-ended contracts for workers they already employ on fixed-term contracts. Furthermore, 'vertical' (ie comprised of working days similar to those of full-time workers, but with the number of working days reduced), 'horizontal' (with reduced hours every day) or 'mixed' part-time contracts will be possible. Personnel hired on part-time contracts may not exceed 3% of full-time personnel, or 2% in companies with fewer than 100 employees.
  • In terms of working time flexibility, weekly working time may not exceed 48 hours, overtime hours included, and average working time will be calculated over a four-month reference period. The agreement entrusts decentralised bargaining with the possibility of defining more flexible solutions and with the possibility of changing the established limits and introducing different working time solutions.
  • Job classification schemes will be adapted to recent technological and organisation changes, and the agreement provides for the creation of an ad hoc working group for this purpose.
  • There will be a four-hour annual reduction in working time for shiftworkers.
  • With regard to leave, migrant workers who submit a request for time off to spend with their families in their country of origin will be able to benefit from continuous absence periods by grouping their various holidays and paid leave. The agreement also provides for the possibility of training leave. Workers with at least five years' service will be able to benefit from such leave for a maximum period of 12 months. The number of workers who can take training leave at the same time may not exceed 1% of the workforce.
  • There will be an average monthly wage increase of EUR 96 over the two-year period 2003-5, paid as follows: EUR 40 from June 2003; EUR 40 from March 2004; and EUR 16 from November 2005. The wage increase amounts to 6.55%, of which: 2.5 percentage points correspond to the difference between forecast and actual inflation over 2001-3; and 4.05 points represent forecast inflation for 2003-5. The 4.05-point figure will also be used as a basis for calculating wage increases when the pay part of the agreement is renegotiated for 2005-7. On that occasion - and this is an important innovation - the partners will thus negotiate on the basis of a predefined overall rate and not on the basis of forecast inflation rate.
  • The agreement provides for the creation of a solidarity fund to provide food to disadvantaged people around the world with important food needs. The fund will be financed on a joint basis by the sector's companies and workers, which will make a total contribution equal to two hours' pay per worker per year.

The partners are very satisfied with the agreement. In a joint communiqué, both the unions and Federalimentare described it as 'a balanced agreement which sees the partners committed in the search for solutions aimed at the sector’s development'.

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