Renewal of national collective agreement in textiles and leather sector

In July 2008, the social partners representing the almost 800,000 workers in the textiles and leather sector signed a document renewing the national collective agreement. The bargaining process took place in a relatively cooperative climate, although some differences of opinion emerged on issues relating not only to pay increases but also to holidays for immigrant workers, overtime and the introduction of a territorial level of collective bargaining.

The renewal of the national-level collective agreement in the textiles and leather sector applies not only to the ‘textiles and garments’ industry, but also to the footwear, skins and leather, eyeglasses, toys, pens and brushes industries. The draft agreement drawn up at the beginning of July 2008 was submitted for approval by workers through a referendum in which 98% of the voters – about 500,000 workers – voted in favour of the accord.

According to data from the Italian Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in Textiles, Clothing, Shoes and Other Sectors (Unione nazionale piccola e media industria tessile, abbigliamento, calzature ecc, Uniontessile), the industries concerned comprise almost 800,000 workers: the textiles and garments industry alone has about 580,000 employees and almost 73,000 enterprises, while the tanning industry consists of almost 23,000 enterprises and over 197,000 employees.

Signatories to agreement

On the employer side, signatories to the agreement included Uniontessile, affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Industry (Confederazione Italiana della Piccola e Media Industria Privata, Confapi), and the Federation of Italian Textile, Clothing and Fashion Industries (Sistema Moda Italia- Federazione Tessile e Moda, SMI-ATI), affiliated to the Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria).

On the trade union side, the agreement was signed by: the Italian Federation of Workers in Textiles and Leather Clothing and Footwear (Federazione Italiana Lavoratori Tessili Abbigliamento Cuoio Calzature, Filtea-Cgil), affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil); the Energy, Fashion, Chemicals and Allied Industries Federation (Federazione Energia Moda Chimica e Affini, Femca-Cisl), affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl); and the Italian Textiles and Clothing Workers’ Union (Unione Italiana Lavoratori Tessili e Abbigliamento, Uilta-Uil), affiliated to the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil).

Process of negotiations

In marked contrast to national-level bargaining in the majority of economic sectors, the negotiations on the renewal of the textiles and leather agreement began in January 2008, before its expiry on 31 March. In June, a draft agreement had already been drawn up. This draft became the national collective agreement in July, after a ballot was held in the enterprises where the signatory trade unions were present. Apart from the promptness in drafting an agreement, the negotiations were also characterised by the positive negotiating stance of the social partners. No conflict emerged to provoke strikes or interruptions of the negotiations. However, in May, the negotiations came to a standstill. Among the reasons cited by the parties for this turn of events, two were of particular interest.

Main issues of concern during negotiations

One issue of concern related to the proposal put forward by the trade unions to experiment with a ‘territorial’ level of bargaining. According to the unions, holidays and working hours should be regulated by the national-level agreement, but the ways in which the relative provisions are implemented should be devolved to a second level. The unions therefore proposed a form of local bargaining, or negotiation between the social partners at industrial district level. The issue was left unresolved, while company-level bargaining was strengthened by being allocated the abovementioned issues, as well as numerous others including the variable components of wages and particularly those linked to productivity such as bonuses.

A second cause of contention was overtime. In this regard, the employer representatives insisted on the need for broad flexibility on the part of workers and asked for the introduction of 40 compulsory hours of overtime in order to meet possible peaks in demand. However, the trade unions instead argued successfully that overtime work should remain voluntary, given the already considerable ‘spontaneous willingness of textiles workers to put in extra hours to cope with production peaks’, according to the representative from Filtea-Cgil, Valeria Fideli.

Content of new collective agreement

The question of overtime was resolved by establishing that workers could recoup overtime hours up to a maximum of 96 hours by taking time off in lieu during the following year. Company-level bargaining was strengthened not only in regard to working hours, but also concerning possible agreements on employment policies, competitiveness and training.

Another interesting aspect of the renewal agreement was the inclusion of a subsection on ‘norms specific to immigrant workers’. This section stipulates that ‘in accordance with specific technical-organisational and productive needs’, workers employed in places distant from the residences of their families may ‘take continuous periods of absence from work, through the concentration of the holidays and paid annual leave envisaged by the agreement’.

A further topic considered during the negotiations was the need to be innovative and update the job classification system. In this regard, for the time being, a series of talks between the various parties involved have been scheduled.

Finally, the economic part of the agreement set out a monthly pay increase of €94 – almost equal to the €95 rise requested by the trade unions – valid for the next two-year period. This provision is more advantageous than those stipulated by agreement renewals in other sectors – such as the banking sector (IT0802029I) or the public sector (IT0706029I) – where pay increases often apply to a period longer than the reference economic biennium.

Reactions of social partners

The social partners unanimously announced their satisfaction with the agreement reached. The three trade union confederations involved passed positive judgement on the agreement’s renewal in a joint document issued at the end of July 2008. The Filtea-Cgil representative, Valeria Fideli, emphasised ‘the success in obtaining the wage increase’ and the importance given to the second bargaining level: at national level, the endeavour had been to ‘define specific guidelines for the form and content of local-level agreements’, in line with the reform of the industrial relations system currently under discussion. The employer representatives also judged the agreement positively and praised the speediness of the negotiations.

Manuela Galetto, Fondazione Seveso

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