Freelance contracts converted into standard employment contracts

The end of April 2007 was the deadline given for stipulating agreements designed to stabilise the employment relationships of freelance workers irregularly employed by companies. The opportunity to transform atypical work contracts into the standard form of subordinated employment was offered to employers and trade unions through the 2007 budget law. The latter legislation regulates the procedure for stabilising the employment of freelance workers.

Background

The measures set out in the 2007 finance act (legge finanziaria) (IT0610029I) are the result of a series of negotiations and legislative actions concerning the contractual positions of freelance workers (IT0501NU01), particularly those employed in call centres. The first of these actions derives from a circular – the Damiano Circular – issued in 2006 by the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Cesaro Damiano. This circular laid down guidelines on the position of workers supplying online customer care and assistance, or so-called ‘inbound activities’, and established the job’s nature as dependent employment (IT0609019I). By contrast, the circular recognised that ‘outbound’ call centre work had greater organisational autonomy and was therefore compatible with freelance contracts. The Damiano Circular was followed by the ‘common opinion on call centres’ of 4 October 2006, in which the social partners stated their commitment to stabilising the employment relationship of project workers in call centres through the conversion of project-based employment contracts into the standard form of subordinated employment. Signatories of the common opinion were the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria) and the three main trade union confederations – the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil).

At the same time, however, the social partners asked for legislation that would regulate the stabilisation process. The same request was made by the social partners in the collective agreement for the Almaviva group of 13 December 2006, which was the first such agreement to formalise the stabilisation of freelance work (IT0701039I).

Legislative measures contained in 2007 budget law

The legislative provisions requested by the social partners have been put in place by the 2007 budget law – the Law of 27 December 2006, No. 296, sub-sections 1202–1210 – which provided for freelance contracts to be transformed into the standard form of subordinated employment by 30 April 2007. This was to be achieved through collective agreements between the representative employer organisations and trade unions, which subsequently had to be signed individually by the workers concerned.

According to the law, the company is required to pay a supplementary contribution to the National Social Security Institute (Istituto Nazionale di Previdenza Sociale, INPS) as a payment of social security arrears, and it must undertake not to dismiss the workers concerned for at least 24 months.

Outcome of negotiations

On expiry of the period established for stabilising employment relationships of freelance work, a joint note was issued on 8 May 2007 by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (Ministero del Lavoro e della Previdenza Sociale), along with the two employer organisations – Confindustria and the National Association of Contact Centres in Outsourcing (Associazione Nazionale dei Contact Center in Outsourcing, Assocontact) – and the trade union confederations Cgil, Cisl and Uil. This note reported that about 20,000 workers, of whom 90% are employed in call centres, have seen their freelance work contracts transformed into traditional employment contracts. This included a significant proportion of women in south-central Italy.

This outcome is largely the result of 72 collective agreements covering a total of 82 companies, with some of these agreements having group validity. The most significant aspects of these group agreements relates to the number of workers involved, as is the case in the group agreements covering the companies Telework, One Call and Telecontatto, as well as the In & Out group. In the former case, the agreement commits the companies to also stabilising the employment relationships of workers engaged in mixed call-centre activities – that is, in inbound and outbound activities – as well as those engaged in back-office work. The agreement signed for the In & Out group provides for the conversion of some 1,600 freelance work contracts into part-time 36-hour, open-ended employment contracts, thereby covering all workers at the group’s Taranto call centre. The agreement also covers over 700 workers at the group’s call centre in Rome, and foresees the regularisation of the employment relationship of 1,400 workers involved in outbound activities, who are not covered by the 2007 budget law.

The Omnia group agreement, which was signed in Milan on 28 March 2007, is also significant. This agreement provides for the conversion of about 400 project-based work contracts into subordinate employment relationships. The agreement also requires that workers on maternity leave will see their employment relationship stabilised ahead of other workers.

Reaction of social partners

The campaigns launched by the trade union confederations Cgil, Cisl and Uil confirmed the social partners’ favourable reaction to the 2007 budget law during the entire period defined for employment stabilisation. Moreover, a communiqué issued by Assocontact urged its members to stabilise the employment relationships of its freelance workers. In addition, the useful coordination work performed by the Provincial Labour Agencies (Direzioni Provinciali del Lavoro, DPL) and by the labour inspectorates should be highlighted.

Commentary

The outcome of the agreements indicate that the employment stabilisation of freelance work has produced an original form of bargaining between the social partners: for the first time, this has involved workers with atypical employment contracts and the sector’s representative trade unions. In some cases, this marks the first step towards the unionisation of call-centre workers.

Cristina Tajani, Ires Lombardia

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