Public sector workers hold strike

On 19 May 2003, workers in many parts of the Italian public sector went on strike to push for the opening of negotiations over the renewal of their collective agreements (which expired at the end of 2001) and support their demands. Participation in the strike was very high, especially in hospitals, nursery schools and social security offices.

In February 2002, the Vice Prime Minister, Gianfranco Fini, and the three main trade union confederations - the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacato Lavatori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil) - signed a general framework agreement on the forthcoming renewal of national collective agreements for public sector workers. It included average wage increases of 5.56% for 2002-3, a higher percentage than the government's predicted inflation rate (IT0203102N).

A number of public sector collective agreements have recently been concluded, notably for the schools sector and employees of ministries (IT0303204F), and have followed the parameters laid down by the 2002 framework accord. However some 1.6 million public sector workers are still awaiting the renewal of their national collective agreements, which expired in December 2001, including those for local healthcare bodies, semi-state bodies, tax agencies and cabinet employees. The sectoral trade unions representing public sector workers - Fp-Cgil, Fps-Cisl, Uil-Fpl and Uil-Pa- have been calling for the start of negotiations over these renewals, which will also have to be based on the parameters set by the February 2002 agreement.

In order to push for the opening of negotiations and support their demands, the sectoral unions called a joint strike by all public sector categories awaiting the renewal of their collective agreements. The strike took place on 19 May 2003 and recorded a high participation rate, especially in hospitals, nursery schools and social security offices. According to the unions, 80% of workers took part in the strike, and in a few cases participation reached 100%. The strike was accompanied by demonstrations all over Italy and by sit-ins in front of prefectures. Public service workers, such as those in healthcare, guaranteed basic services even where they took part in strike and, to show their support, wore stickers and distributed leaflets.

The first result of the action was obtained on the day of the strike itself. The Agency for the representation of public administrations in collective bargaining (Agenzia governativa per la contrattazione nel pubblico impiego, Aran) invited the trade unions to start negotiations for the renewal of the national collective agreement for semi-state bodies, which covers 60,000 workers.

The trade unions, declaring their unity of action, announced another possible strike and a demonstration to be held in Rome on 27 June 2003 if negotiations fail to start for all categories. Their complaints were mainly addressed to the government, which has not issued a directive to Aran to hasten the start of all negotiations.

Semi-state workers will not take part in the forthcoming strike because negotiations over the renewal of their agreement started on 21 May 2003. Negotiations have been difficult, as the parties have diverging positions as regards the pay part of the agreement. According to the unions, the average EUR 126 per month increase offered by Aran is not sufficient, given the average semi-state workers' remuneration, which the unions believe should be raised by at least EUR 135 per month. The possible start of negotiations is also envisaged for tax agencies and cabinet employees - according to Aran, the government is already discussing the relevant directives.

The trade unions were highly satisfied with the success of the strike on 19 May. According to Guglielmo Epifani, the general secretary of Cgil , the strike 'confirmed that the government needs to provide - as soon as possible - suitable solutions to stop the decay of public sector employment and to affirm its value and role'. Savino Pezzotta, the general secretary of Cisl, commented that 'the agreement signed in February 2002 has to be applied to all public sector workers'. According to Luigi Angeletti, the general secretary of Uil, 'more than one year has passed from the expiry of the agreements and now is not possible to wait any longer for their renewal.'

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