Journalists strike over bargaining deadlock
The national collective agreement covering Italian journalists expired in February 2005. In the negotiations over the renewal of the agreement, the positions of the journalists’ trade union and the employers’ association have been far apart, especially on issues concerning the labour market and regulation of freelance journalism. After a two-day strike held by the union at the beginning of June 2005, negotiations - which seemed close to reaching a deal - were once again interrupted in mid-September when the union announced another two-day strike.
In Italy, exercise of the profession of journalist is regulated by law, and enrolment with a specific 'order' (ordine dei giornalisti) is compulsory. The legal framework was introduced in order to support the quality and independence of journalists’ work, as well as to enforce compliance with the ethical rules of the profession. Enrolment on the register for journalists is conditional on passing a so-called 'state exam' following a traineeship (the 'praticantato giornalistico') of at least 18 months’ duration; alternatively, the candidate must be able to prove that he or she has worked continuously, thought not necessarily exclusively, as a journalist. In the first case, the journalist will be registered in the list of 'professional journalists'; in the second, he or she will be included in the list of 'non-professional journalists' (pubblicisti). Professional journalists may be either dependent employees or freelancers, while non-professional journalists usually have their main job in an occupation other than journalism (they may be, for instance, teachers, lawyers or professionals) or are freelancers. At the end of 2003, there were around 20,000 registered professional journalists, 50,000 'pubblicisti' and almost 2,000 trainee journalists in Italy.
However, enrolments with the 'professional order' cannot be used for precise quantification of the number of journalists in the country, because they include numerous pensioners and - especially - non-professional journalists who work for the media only sporadically. More reliable, though not entirely accurate, are the figures furnished by the journalists' pension funds managed by the National Institute for Social Security of the Italian Journalists (Istituto nazionale di previdenza dei giornalisti italiani, Inpgi) separately for employee journalists (the Inpgi1 fund) and for self-employed journalists (Inpgi2). The latter is similar to the pension coverage for 'employer-coordinated freelance' workers and 'project' workers (IT0509104F and IT0308304F). According to these figures, in 2002 there were around 14,000 employed journalists and almost 13,000 freelancers registered in the Inpgi2 fund. Although these figures also include people who have ended their activity or work only sporadically as journalists, they highlight the increasing importance of non-dependent or freelance employment relationships. This issue is central to current negotiations between the Italian National Press Federation (Federazione nazionale stampa italiana, Fnsi) trade union and the Italian Newspaper Publishers Association (Federazione italiana editori giornali, Fieg), the employers’ association for the sector, over renewal of the national collective agreement for journalists, which expired on 28 February 2005. Industrial relations in the sector is marked by the distinctive nature of trade union representation - the presence of a single occupational trade union (Fnsi), which is structured on a regional basis and has an extremely high level of membership: union density among employed journalists currently stands at around 70%.
The abovementioned change in the occupational structure of the profession led to inclusion in the recently-expired national agreement of clauses specifically covering freelance journalists (IT0104367F), which in particular lay down a standard contract for this category of workers. However, the labour market and the protection of freelance journalists remain at the centre of the claims put forward by Fnsi and they have been the key issues addressed by the negotiations on renewal of the journalists’ collective agreement, which began on 28 February between Fnsi on the one hand, and the Italian Newspaper Publishers Association (Fieg), the Local Broadcasters Association (Aeranti-Corallo) and the Agency for the representation of public administrations in collective bargaining (Agenzia per la rappresentanza negoziale delle pubbliche amministrazioni, Aran), on the other.
Negotiations on renewal of the collective agreement
The parties to the negotiations took up quite distant positions from the outset. On the one hand, Fieg maintained that the new agreement should include forms of organisational and work flexibility. For this purpose the agreement should also incorporate the measures introduced by the 2003 law reforming the labour market (IT0307204F), with the aim of enabling publishing companies to compete in a market that they regard as increasingly difficult and undergoing rapid change. On the other hand, Fnsi demanded that journalism would be kept exempt from the new types of 'atypical' work contracts envisaged by the labour-market reform implemented by decree 276 of September 2003. The trade union also pressed for freelance journalists to receive greater protection and guarantees, and for definitive parity between contractual and social security arrangements for professional journalists and non-professional journalists.
The negotiations soon ran into difficulties, and the union held a two-day strike in early June 2005. However, towards September it seemed that a deal was about to be reached. Fieg had apparently concluded that its stance on renewal of the agreement was too distant from the union’s demands and proposed a two-year agreement on the following points:
- extension of the 'normative' (non-pay) provisions of the previous agreement until its next expiry in two years’ time;
- renewal of the pay part of the collective agreement;
- non-application of the provisions set out by law no. 30 of 2003 and the decrees implementing reform of the labour market (IT0307204F) and by legislative decree 368/2001 implementing the 1999 EU Directive (1999/70/EC) implementing the EU-level social partners' framework agreement on fixed-term work (EU9901147F);
- a commitment to the continuation of talks on application of the above laws;
- the holding of talks on the regulation of work by freelance journalists;
- approval of agreements on reform of the sectoral social security system that provide for changes to the criteria used to calculate pension entitlements (with a switch to a contributions-based system) and a gradual increase in the age of eligibility for a seniority-based pension;
- extension of the supplementary pension fund (Fondo di Previdenza Complementare dei Giornalisti Italiani, Fpcgi) to cover apprentices and non-professional journalists; and
- refinancing of the mobility and retraining fund for the journalists involved in company restructurings (Fondo per la mobilità e la riqualificazione dei giornalisti per la gestione delle ristrutturazioni) created by law 7 of March 2001, no. 62, which lapses at the end of 2005.
Fnsi considered these proposals a good basis for reaching an agreement and resumed talks by reiterating some of the demands put forward in its previous bargaining platform:
- pay increases should not be less than 10% and a lump-sum payment should be made to cover the period since February without collective agreement coverage ( the collective agreement gap);
- a memorandum of understanding on freelance journalists should impose restrictions on their use, and should state the minimum levels of pay and social security contributions for the various branches of freelance journalism (print, photography, video); and
- the agreement should prohibit the use of students on work experience placements and causal workers as substitutes for staff on holiday or on sickness or maternity leave.
However, the talks between Fnsi and Fieg did not conclude with the agreement expected. Instead, the trade union abandoned the negotiating table and announced another two-day strike, which was held on 30 September and 1 October by journalists working for newspapers, press agencies, internet sites and press offices, and on 7 and 8 October by national and local radio and television journalists.
Fnsi accused Fieg of 'going back on its commitments to the freeze on application of law 30 reforming the labour market, on the legislation liberalising the use of fixed-term contracts (legislative decree 368/2001), with particular regard to subcontracted work, transfers of undertakings and the posting of journalists', forms of work which the union regards as undermining professional independence. Moreover, according to Fnsi, the employers had also reneged on their commitment to holding talks on regulating the employment conditions of freelance journalists. The general secretary of Fnsi, Paolo Serventi Longhi, stated that 'the union is ready to hold further strikes, bolstered as it is by the fact that the recent protest was joined by a high percentage of the country’s journalists'.
The employers for their part claimed that the breakdown in the talks was the fault of Fnsi, 'which had advanced unacceptable demands for the early settlement of issues concerning application of law 30 of 2003 and the regulation of freelance work, definition of which, according to the logic of the agreement’s normative provisions extension, should be deferred to the next four-yearly bargaining round'. Fieg expressed 'disappointment and concern' over the breakdown of talks on renewal of the agreement and - in the words of its president, Boris Biancheri - declared its 'readiness to resume talks provided they concentrate on the sector’s concrete and urgent problems. Forcing the publishing companies to accept an absurd tangle of constraints, controls, prohibitions and unbearable economic costs, like those contained in the union’s platform, would mean that any possible improvement in corporate economic results will be precluded, thereby compromising the evolution of the information contents of newspapers, their expansion, and the launching of new products'.
Renewal of the journalists’ collective agreement has come at a time of significant change in the profession, due both to the massive adoption of new technologies with great impact on the organisation of work and media content, and to restructuring of the sector, which has given rise to large publishing groups but also to numerous ventures in electronic and internet-based information services. Against this background, the Fnsi trade union has seemingly opted for the strategy of vigorously opposing the recent erosion of standard forms of employment, which has marked the experience of many press workplaces in recent years and basically occurred through the increase in freelance journalism. The aim is to maintain the unity of the profession and reduce fragmentation by means of collective bargaining that extends some protections to freelance journalists and restricts the use of the new forms of contract introduced by law. To date, however, this stance has clashed with the requests for (further) organisational and contractual flexibility put forward by the employers.
Fnsi can count on considerable organisational capacity and a particularly advanced system of protection. The growth in the number of freelance journalists, who are not covered by these protections but are often members of the union, may raise a concrete challenge to the current regulation of employment. The endeavour to reduce the rifts among journalistic staff (and also, in many respects, between large and small media houses) is certainly an important aspect of the current negotiations. However, any agreement may require a new equilibrium to be reached among the demands of the publishers, the forms of protection currently enjoyed by employed journalists and the possible protections to be extended to freelance journalists. (Diego Coletto, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso)